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Buddhist leader visits disgraced scientist Hwang

By Bae Ji-sook, The Korea Herald, March 8, 2012

Seoul, South Korea -- Ven. Jaseung, leader of the nation’s largest Buddhist order of Jogye, visited stem cell researcher, Hwang Woo-suk on Wednesday to encourage his little known, but ongoing study of dog cloning.

<< Ven. Jaseung (right) head of the Buddhist Jogye Order, talks with Hwang Woo-suk at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation building in Guro, southern Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)

It is the first time a Buddhist leader paid an official visit to Hwang since the former Seoul National University professor shunned the media spotlight after it was revealed in 2005 that some data in his trailblazing research on cloning human embryo stem cells had been manipulated.

According to the report, Jaseung visited the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation building in Guro, southern Seoul, around 4 p.m. and chatted with Hwang for an hour. Alongside several other monks, the venerable then watched Hwang work on cloning a dog for about 15 minutes in the centers’ operation room.

“I wanted to encourage Hwang with his studies,” Jaseung was quoted as saying to a local news agency.

Hwang cut open a female dog’s abdomen and held up its uterus and oviduct, pointing out where the ovarian eggs were. He demonstrated the extraction of 10 eggs from the oviduct, and then let the monks look at the eggs through a microscope.

The researchers said the project was to clone a pet dog for an American client, which costs roughly $100,000, according to Yonhap news agency. “It takes about six months to undergo the whole procedure but many people have shown interest in our service, and some are using it,” a researcher said.

Hwang reportedly gave a 2-month-old Tibetan Mastiff born from an original dog and a cloned dog to Jaseung.

Hwang has been in good terms with Buddhists since he is a devoted Buddhist. He won the first “Buddhist Award” in 2004 but after the scandal questioning Hwang’s ethics shook the nation and effectively expelled him from academia, the two have maintained a rather quiet liaison. Buddhist supporters for Hwang have openly demanded the government and society approve the resumption of Hwang’s research.

Hwang has led the foundation since 2006, focusing on developing animal models for Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes research. The center is also working on cloning cows for protein engineering and gnotobiotic pigs for xenotransplantation.

Still, Hwang’s main field, embryonic stem cells for tailored medical treatments, has not won approval from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

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