South Korean officials said on Tuesday that the country will decide soon on whether the three-year ban on human stem cell research using human eggs will be finally lifted or not.
Such research has been banned since claims by disgraced expert Hwang Woo-Suk that he created the first human stem cells through cloning were ruled to be bogus.
AdvertisementNow a Cha General Hospital team is seeking approval from the country's national committee on bioethics to resume the research. Health officials said the committee would screen the request probably in April.
"The government will respect the committee's decision," a ministry official in charge of bioethics told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He refused to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that the government is positively considering the hospital's request after US President Barack Obama lifted a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Obama on Monday signed an executive order reversing predecessor George W. Bush's ban, which critics say hampered the fight to find treatments for grave diseases.
"I believe the government will approve our request, which is expected to kick-start the research once done by Hwang," Cha Stemcell Institute director Chung Hyung-Min told AFP.
The national committee has rejected a similar request from Hwang, who is now engaged in animal cloning but wants to begin a new embryonic stem cell research project using eggs from aborted foetuses.
Hwang, still on trial for fraud, embezzlement, ethical breaches and other charges, has insisted in court that he could prove he created the first cloned human stem cells.
Such cells could potentially be used to treat difficult or incurable diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.
Chung said Hwang's case had dramatically curtailed research into the cloning of human embryonic stem cells in South Korea.
"We will be able to regain our status as a hotbed for human stem cell research" if the ban is lifted, he said, adding his team has developed new technology to meet tough ethical rules.