Sept. 26, 2008
Australia is apparently considering granting a patent for human cloning to disgraced South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk. The patent would cover the method of producing cloned human embryos and destroying the cloned embryos to harvest human embryonic stem cells. If granted, it would allow Hwang to collect royalties on proceeds from the sales of new medicines developed with his technology. Not that there are any such developments, nor likely to be. But it certainly seems wrong to reward a fraudulent scientist for a process he faked.
Hwang supposedly created cloned human embryos and destroyed them for their cells in 2004 and 2005, publishing the results in the journal Science. In late 2005 it was revealed that the research was a fraud and the results fabricated; the published papers were withdrawn. Hwang was indicted in May 2006, and prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind the fraud. South Korea has banned Hwang from research on cloning human embryos, though he continues to clone animals.
Hwang has supposedly applied for patents on his cloning technique in 11 countries but has been rejected by the European Patent Office and most countries, though a decision is still supposedly pending in four countries. One international patent expert, though, said even if Australia went ahead and granted a patent, it could be revoked if Hwang fails to present the cloned human embryonic stem cell line. If that is the case, Hwang is out of luck; the cell line that Hwang did create was determined to be from parthenogenesis, not from cloning. If you’re interested, you can review his patent claims and patent description.