July 3, 2022

What was Hwang Woo-suk doing in Libya?

Hwang Woo-suk, recently fled Libya. 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.

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.

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

Michael Cook