Hwang Woo Suk and Moon Shin Yong

Hwang Woo Suk and Moon Shin Yong
▪ 2005

      In February 2004 two researchers from Seoul (S.Kor.) National University announced that they had successfully cloned human embryos. Hwang Woo Suk, a specialist in veterinary medicine, and Moon Shin Yong, an obstetrician, harvested eggs from donors and developed cloned embryos. One of the embryos yielded stem cells—undifferentiated cells capable of developing into specific cell types. Scientists believed that stem cells might one day be used to treat illnesses resulting from damaged cells, including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson disease, and Alzheimer disease.

      The announcement set off a new round of debates regarding the ethics of human cloning. Hwang and Moon voiced strong opposition to reproductive cloning and insisted that their research was conducted solely for the purpose of therapeutic cloning—that is, for fighting disease. Opponents were not appeased. Some believed that the development opened the door to reproductive cloning. Many others continued to oppose stem-cell research of any kind on religious grounds.

      Human cells had been cloned before, but the resulting fragile embryos died quickly. Hwang and Moon credited the success of their research to several factors. One was the large number of eggs they had available: 242. They were obtained from 16 female volunteer donors who underwent a rigorous screening process to ensure that they understood the implications of their participation. Another factor was the way in which material was extracted from the eggs. Whereas past researchers had used suction, Hwang and Moon used a squeezing technique, which helped reduce damage to the eggs.

      Hwang was born Dec. 15, 1953, in Buyeo, S.Kor. He studied at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Seoul National University, receiving a B.S. (1977) in veterinary medicine and an M.S. (1979) and a Ph.D. (1982) in theriogenology, the study of animal reproduction. In 1984 he joined the faculty of Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan, as a visiting fellow, and from 1986 he was a faculty member at Seoul National University.

      Moon was born April 1, 1948, in Kongju, Korea (now in South Korea). He studied in the College of Medicine at Seoul National University (B.S., 1974; M.S., 1977; Ph.D., 1987). He joined the faculty of the College of Medicine of the university in 1983 and was named director of the university's Institute of Reproductive Medicine and Population in 1999. He also studied at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, Va., in the mid-1980s.

      Hwang, who received South Korea's top scientist prize in April 2004, had earned a name for himself by developing methods for cloning cows and pigs. In 2002, having decided to begin work on human cloning, he approached Moon, who had done extensive work with in vitro fertilization.

Anthony G. Craine

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Universalium. 2010.

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