Friday, March 18, 2011

Disgraced Libyan Cloner to Discuss Collaboration

There is even a bioethics angle to the conflict in Libya. Disgraced Korean cloner Hwang Woo-Suk travelled to Libya on February 10 to discuss a US$135 million collaboration with the government. According to Yonhap news, Hwang has travelled there around 10 times since 2004 and was given a retainer of just under $850,000 for collaborating on stem cell research on incurable diseases. The present deal was supposed to include a research center in Libya and the relocation of Hwang's cloning-related technology. The Libyan uprising reveals how failed statess are often get seduced by profitability of science, while basic human needs go unmet.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, Hwang was to sign a collaborative agreement with DANA Bioscience and Medical Service, a company recently set up by Libya. However this month's war has probably put the whole project in jeopardy. Reporters spotted Hwang at the Tripoli airport amongst a group of 198 people being evacuated by the Korean government.

But what was he doing there anyway? His presence suggests that Libya is (or was) trying to develop expertise in stem cell research. Abbas Rattani, of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, explains why so many small countries are interested in the field:

"In a global world where the scientific advancements of developing countries are overall incomparable to nations such as the United States, many countries see scientific research as an excellent opportunity to attract publicity and/or establish a presence in the Western-dominated scientific environment...

"[S]tem cell research has become a lucrative endeavor for many, and a new avenue for proving one's scientific prowess. Countries that are lagging behind in scientific innovation and development may resort to supporting questionable treatments and research as an attempt to establish themselves as the "epicenter of stem cell research" in order to compete with similar institutions in prominent developed nations." ~ Bioethics Bulletin, March 16; Nature, Mar 1

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