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World Stem Cell Foundation: End Run Around Oversight?

Genetic Crossroads
November 10th, 2005

The announcement of what the New England Journal of Medicine termed an "offshore haven for embryonic stem cell research" in South Korea has raised a new round of doubts about whether stem cell research will be conducted with effective safeguards. Rosario Isasi, Program Associate for International Affairs at the Center for Genetics and Society and University of Montreal postdoctoral fellow, described the new consortium -- variously called the "World Stem Cell Foundation" and the "World Stem Cell Hub"-- as an effort that appears "designed to bypass ethical and legal restrictions."

In a related development, a researcher in Dr. Hwang's team, Roh Sung-il, is under investigation for purchasing human eggs, for assisted reproduction, from a broker, who has been arrested.


News about the consortium drew ambivalent reactions from U.S. stem cell researchers. Some supported it precisely because it provides a way to avoid the regulatory "complications" that apply to work on stem cells and research cloning in other countries, including Canada and the UK. Others worried that the arrangement gives too much control of cloning technology and the stem cell lines produced by it to an effort headed by Woo Suk Hwang, whose laboratory at Seoul National University was the first to derive stem cells from cloned human embryos.

Many important specifics about the consortium's plans and arrangements remain unavailable. Hwang and Gerald Schatten, who until recently led efforts to clone monkeys at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, said that the consortium will set up two satellite laboratories, one in London and the other in the San Francisco area, where local women will be recruited to supply "fresh" eggs for research cloning procedures.


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