June 24, 2005

Cloning Pioneer Honored in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The South Korean government on Friday named cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk as the nation's "top scientist," an honor that will grant him as much as 3 billion won ($3 million) in annual funding for five years.

A 10-member committee gave Hwang the nation's first-ever such title "highly evaluating his works that have provided a technology which opens a biotechnology revolution in the 21st century," the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement.

Last month, Hwang and his colleagues at Seoul National University created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients - a major step in the quest to grow replacement tissues to treat diseases. A year ago, Hwang's team created the world's first cloned human embryos.

The South Korean government has already provided 2 billion won ($2 million) to Hwang's team this year. With the new title, Hwang will receive an additional 1 billion won ($988,000) for total grants of 3 billion won ($3 million) every year until 2009, the ministry said.

"We plan to provide support so that Korea can make the future of the world," said Rim Kwan, committee head and chairman of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.

Hwang was in Japan and not immediately available for comment, his office said.