The Korea Herald


Lee: Gov‘t to invest 100 billion won in stem cell research next year


Published : Sept. 19, 2011 - 11:07

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SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said Monday the government will invest nearly 100 billion won ($90 million) in stem cell research next year and take other support steps to develop the industry as a “new growth engine” for South Korea’s economy.

The pledge, made in Lee‘s biweekly radio address, appears to reflect concerns that South Korea, once considered a top global leader in stem cell research, could fall far behind other fast-moving rival nations unless its research in the promising field is revitalized.

Stem cell research in South Korea has been down for years since cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk was found in 2005 to have faked his purported breakthroughs, including his claim to have created the world’s first patient-specific embryonic stem cells.

Stem cells are master cells that can grow into any bodily tissue, including blood, bones or organs. Scientists hope the technology could one day provide cures for such hard-to-treat diseases as diabetes, Alzheimer‘s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“Just a decade ago, Korea took the lead in stem cell research in the world along with the United States. Unfortunately, there was a disappointing incident, which caused inevitable damage to the entire stem-cell research community in Korea,” Lee said, referring to the Hwang Woo-suk scandal.

“While we were faltering in our quest for stem cell research, other nations streamlined their regulations and aggressively expanded their investments in research,” he said, giving examples of progress made by other nations, such as the U.S., Japan, Britain and China.

Lee said that stem cell research is “very rewarding and significant in that it can give hope to those who suffer from rare and intractable diseases. In addition, from a business perspective, it can be said to be a high-value-added industry.”

“The government has decided to foster the stem cell industry as a core new growth engine following the footsteps of the IT industry,” he said. “The government is planning on investing approximately 100 billion won in stem cell-related research next year.”

Lee also said that the government plans to establish a “national stem cell bank” that will be used to “produce, preserve and supply stem cells to various researchers in the country on a stable basis.”

The government will also reform related regulations to make clinical and licensing procedures simpler and easier while strengthening the functions of the Korea Food and Drug Administration and other agencies “to ensure that they proactively adapt to the changes in the international environment,” he said.

Lee also promised to rectify “elements that impede commercialization.”

"Stem cell research and the development of medical treatments promise to serve as an engine that will pull the progress of the country‘s bioengineering and medical technology,” Lee said.

"This field is new and offers infinite room for advancement, and how well we mange at this initial stage will make an enormous difference down the road. The country should now set its eyes on emerging as a stem cell powerhouse.”