The Stem-Cell Race Continues

Scientific research is usually conducted to improve our lives, but it is also an industry, one that represents a massive investment by governments and corporations alike. The stakes and potential rewards for a few research topics are exceptionally high, which is why the recent finding that the Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk fabricated the results of his work on stem cells has reverberated so widely.

The episode highlights the ongoing race in global health research that is playing out in the field of stem cells. Possibly one of the biggest prizes in medical history is up for grabs, and anyone – truly anyone – could seize it.

The last big scientific race of this type was the effort to map the human genome, which promises to alter future lives radically. That study was initiated by the United States, which used insights developed in the wake of the atomic bombing of Japan to understand the extent of long-term genetic damage. The current research effort on stem cells and their potential is just as grand, because it will lead to an equally radical medical revolution.

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