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In the field of stem cells, China is showing that it can do world-class science. It is a shame, then, that so many fraudsters operate and that officialdom turns a blind eye

IN THE West, and particularly in America, the phrase “stem cell” has acquired a bad reputation. Stem cells are associated, in the minds of many, with the destruction of human embryos, the cloning of human beings and the Frankenstein-like creation of spare body parts. Add in the strange case of Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean researcher who announced, to great acclaim, that he had succeeded in cloning human embryos and was then exposed as a fraud, and you have a field in which many researchers understandably fear to tread.

Not Chinese researchers, though. A Confucian rejection of the idea that embryos are in any meaningful sense human beings (a view shared by many Koreans), together with the possibility of stealing a march on the diffident West, has stimulated a lot of research into stem cells in China. And not only research. Chinese clinics have moved with what many foreign scientists regard as indecent haste into the offering of therapies. Patients from around the world fly in for the treatment of conditions ranging from autism to spinal-cord injury—treatments that are rarely based on science that would pass muster with the authorities in most rich countries, and are often outright frauds. …

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