Six years ago, Hwang Woo Suk's star had fallen as far as could be possible in the biopharma research world. After publishing research on stem cells he claimed were extracted from cloned human embryos, the scientist was exposed as a fraud and convicted of embezzling research funds for the work in 2009.
But Hwang immediately began to work his way back from the disgrace, capitalizing on his skills by providing the wealthy with cloned copies of their pets for 6-figure sums and building his lab for a planned comeback.
Now, he's on the verge of pulling off a large commercial cloning joint venture, eyeing the launch of a large animal cloning operation in China that aims to produce a million cloned cows to satisfy the country's hunger for mass quantities of high quality beef. And some of the experts in the field say it's only a matter of time before Hwang leverages his work at Sooam Biotech into a new venture that once again focuses on controversial human cloning efforts.
The new cow cloning operation is being set up "presumably to restore his reputation" ahead of a step back into human cloning, noted Pete Shanks, a consultant with U.S.-based Center for Genetics and Society, in an interview with The Straits Times.
Cloning of any kind remains extremely controversial. The science is still imperfect, often creating sickly copies of the original.
"It doesn't completely reset the DNA to an embryonic state," Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told NPR several weeks ago. "So depending on how imperfect that process is, you have different ailments that will befall the dog--many of them might die at an early age."
And Hyun also worries that Hwang has never lost his passion for human cloning.
"I'm a little bit wary of the idea that he's still trying to do research and publish in scientific journals," Hyun added. "And some have even suggested that over time, he may make a comeback in the human research arena. I just don't think someone like him can be trusted to follow the rules appropriately."
- here's the story from The Straits Times