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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005, 13:07 GMT
Applications flood stem cell bank
Stem cell, Science Photo Library
Stem cell research is controversial
A new global stem cell centre in South Korea says it has been inundated with applications from patients willing to take part in research at the institute.

Officials said about 3,500 patients volunteered on Tuesday, the centre's first day accepting applications.

The project is being led by cloning expert Dr Woo Suk Hwang, who has pioneered the development of stem cells tailored to individual patients.

Critics say using human embryos in research is unnecessary and unethical.

But proponents argue that stem cells taken from embryos offer the best hope of new treatments for a range of diseases and injuries.

By the end of Tuesday, some 3,500 applications had been received via the internet, telephone, fax and in person, said Lim Jong-pil, an official at the research centre at Seoul National University Hospital.

The centre did not receive any applications from foreign nationals, even though they were eligible, Mr Lim said.

It has not set a deadline for applications, neither has it decided when trials will begin.

Bucking restrictions

"I'm pinning all hopes on this," Lee Kil-no, 52, who was sitting in his wheelchair at the registration centre where patients were filling out forms, told Associated Press.

Mr Lee said he was paralysed from the chest down after falling five stories at a construction site.

However, medical researchers say it is likely to be some years before the research yields real benefits.

"We're now receiving applications only. This doesn't mean treatment will begin immediately," said Kang Sung-keun, a professor at Seoul National University's veterinary college.

The new bank is expecting the help of scientists from countries like the US to get round government restrictions on stem cell research.

The Bush administration bans federal funding for research on all but a handful of old embryonic stem-cell lines.

The first branches of the stem cell bank will open in the UK and the US.

World recognition

Many scientists are hoping to accelerate research on embryonic stem cells - master cells that can grow into all the other tissues in the body.

It is hoped to create about 100 cells lines per year with genetic defects that cause such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Woo Suk Hwang
Woo Suk Hwang has pioneered stem cell research in South Korea
Researchers would then study how these cells develop into diseased tissues.

However, culling stem cells often involves destroying the days-old embryos they come from.

Opponents argue that all embryos, whether created in the lab or not, have the potential to go on to become a fully fledged human, and as such it is morally wrong to experiment on them.

South Korean scientist Woo-Suk Hwang has received world recognition for cloning the world's first human embryos and extracting stem cells from them.

In May, he announced that his team had made stem cells tailored to match individuals for the first time.

Yang Sung-kee, an official in charge of the centre's website, said two network experts were on standby in case of attacks on the site from those who oppose cloning technology. But there were no such attempts, he added.

Stem cells tailored to patients
20 May 05 |  Health
UK opens pioneer stem cell bank
19 May 04 |  Health

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