▲ Prof. Park Se Pill in his office in Jeju City. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
It has been a summer of acclaim for Jeju National University (JNU) Professor and respected embryologist Park Se Pill.
In May he was selected, along with four other scientists, by the national government for the Woo Jang Choon Project. Woo was a famous 20th century Korean botanist and agricultural scientist.
In August, Cellular Reprogramming — a respected medical journal that looks to curing diseases through cellular reprogramming — published a report by Park and his Seoul-based Mirae Biotech team proving they had increased the success rate of producing cloned embryos from 11.7 percent to 23.7 percent while also doubling the effectiveness of cloning from 5 to 10 percent. This cloning success by Park was previously reported on in June 2011.
His first accolade of the summer, the Woo Jang Choon Project appointment, awarded Park with 5 billion won (US$4.5 million) from the central government over a five-year period to work towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The Jeju provincial government has also given Park 1 billion won over that same period to fund the project.
“There were numerous scientists who applied for the Woo Jang Choon Project and even the basic requirements to apply were so difficult … I am so happy that by overcoming that competition rate, I was selected as one of those five scientists and my 30 years of experience has been respected,” Park told The Weekly at his office on JNU campus.
Park applied for the project and was was selected, he said because of his previous accomplishments with cloning and attempting to cure disease with embryonic stem cells.
This accomplishment is the first time a single JNU professor has been awarded a government project of this size.
Park, collaborating with Seoul National University, the National Institute of Animal Science, Konkuk University in Seoul, and University of Illinois will experiment with pigs to try and understand this disease.
“With the appearance of an aging society, Alzheimer’s has been on the rise as one of the most urgent issues in the world,” he said.
Previously, Park said, there has been much advancement to understand this disease through testing on rats, but he cautioned that this animal is not a proper analog for humans due to the size difference between the two species.
“For that reason, we need primates to do this research,” he said, adding that this is impossible due to the cost as well as the “repercussions” from animal rights groups. Instead he will use pigs.
Along with their size, the other benefit to using pigs is their gestation period.
“Pigs are pregnant for 114 days, which is quite a short time compared to cows. And pigs give birth to several piglets during one pregnancy.” This, he continued, will make it easier to know if their experiments are successful.
Park will either inject an Alzheimer-inducing gene into a somatic cell (a non-reproductive cell) or inject the gene directly into the ovum.
When the piglets are born, he will detect which have the neurological disease through examining the animals’ DNA as well as sending them through a maze. The pigs will be taught the route of the maze; those without the disease will have no problem solving it, while those with Alzheimer’s will not be able to find their way out, he said.
During the duration of the project Park said he has two goals; to be able to consistently induce Alzheimer’s in pigs with the purpose of establishing a model of the disease, and to publish his findings in an “world-renowned” journal.
“I will not cure Alzheimer’s, but make a foundation to cure this disease,” he said.
With backing from the provincial government, Park said this is a new step for Jeju.
“Jeju has so far only focused on its indigenous species like tangerines, seafood or black cows. But now, Jeju is donating a lot of money for the first time to conduct research about a serious, world issue — Alzheimer’s — and this is one of the steps that Jeju is taking to be an international city,” he said.
Park’s most recent accomplishment was on Aug. 14 when a paper by him and his Mirae Biotech team was published in the respected journal Cellular Reprogramming.
The paper concerns last year’s birth of Heukusuni, a cloned Jeju black cow. In the process of creating Heukusuni, Park and his team improved the success rate of cloning from 5 percent to 10 percent. The paper focuses on how the utilization of the Oosight Imaging System, instead of the more traditional Hoechst staining, is responsible for this large jump in the cloning success rate.
In creating a cloned cow, Park utilizes the somatic cell nuclear transfer method (SCNT) which is the removal of DNA from an ovum and then replaced with the DNA from a somatic cell. To induce fertilization, electricity is applied to the egg. Then the ovum is placed inside a surrogate cow.
In the cases of bovine cloning, the Hoechst staining method has been used to extract and implant DNA.
“The success rate … is very low,” Park said. “The color of the cow’s ovum is black, and for that reason scientist dye the ovum … [This] is called Hoechst staining,” he said.
However, through this process the ovum becomes damaged and lowers the possibility of that ovum developing into a cloned bovine.
“Oosight Imaging System is that we attach three different apparatus onto the microscope then the scientists can see the ovum without dying.”
This method decreases the amount of genes that die during the cloning process because no foreign solution is introduced to the ovum.
“And this is the first [time] to find out these kinds of result,” he said.
The published paper supports this claim stating, “This is the first report to show the positive effect of the Oosight Imaging System on molecular gene expression in the SCNT embryo.”
“This is the first time to adopt the Oosight Imaging System for cloning cows,” he said.
The result of Oosight imaging helped bring Heukusuni, his third cloned bovine, into being. And in doing so, raised the success rate of cloning from between 4 to 5 percent up to 10 percent.
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