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Asia has huge potential for stem-cell research and aims to become the world leader in cloning technologies, but this will depend on collaboration, says a leading South Korean biologist.

Collaborating and sharing technical skills will be key to Asia's success, says Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University in South Korea. Hwang led the first team to produce stem cells (which have the potential to become any type of cell) from a cloned human embryo last year.

Stem-cell and cloning researchers from countries such as Japan and South Korea gathered at the second Asian Reproductive Biotechnology Conference in Bangkok, Thailand this week to share knowledge with scientists from the region's less developed nations.

Although Asia's success in this field has often been attributed to government support and relaxed ethical regulations, Hwang believes that technical expertise has also been key.

And even having limited resources — with many labs unable to afford basic refrigeration — has not dampened researchers' enthusiasm. Thailand is starting a US$50 million stem-cell programme in 2006, and this year Vietnam pledged to increase research spending to two per cent of its gross domestic product.

Collaboration between China, Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries will be crucial for cloning monkey stem cells to study human disease, said Hwang.

Link to Nature news story