Researchers say they’re determined to attempt human cloning
WASHINGTON (AP) – With angry words and apparent determination, three researchers told a meeting of scientists Tuesday they are unswayed by stories of medical risk or by ethical objections and will soon try to clone human beings.
”I believe we have enough information to proceed with human cloning,” Brigitte Boisselier told a committee of the National Academy of Sciences. ”I don’t believe working with animal cloning will give us much more information. I think we have enough.”
Boisselier, the director of Clonaid, a human cloning company, hinted that such experiments were already under way. When asked for details, she only smiled and said: ”I am doing it and hope I can publish that soon and share it with you.”
Panayiotis Michael Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute in Lexington, Ky., and Dr. Severino Antinori of the University of Rome, said they were proceeding with human cloning research as a means of allowing infertile men to have children. However, they said they had not yet attempted to clone a human being.
The comments came during a hearing amid angry exchanges from people on both sides of the issue. Opponents met in the stately lobby of the National Academy’s building, and under the glare of television lights shouted at each other. One side contended cloning was a human reproductive right; the other said it would be an unethical, perhaps dangerous form of human experimentation.
Earlier, animal cloning researchers said there has been a high level of failure in experiments, with many animals dying before birth and others born with abnormalities.
Asked if these problems might be corrected in human cloning experiments, Alan Colman, director of PPL Therapeutics, made clear his opposition to such research.
”Practice makes perfect, but it is unethical to practice on humans,” said Colman, whose Scottish lab cloned Dolly, the famous sheep. He said that attempting human cloning would result in miscarriages, deaths and abnormal births. ”I don’t see that it is ethical to take on that practice, now or forever.”
Zavos got into a shouting match when Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute in Boston asked if he and other cloning researchers were able to test human embryos for abnormalities.
As Jaenisch elaborated on his question, Zavos snapped, ”I am not going to let him lecture me.”
The National Academy’s panel was hearing testimony from the researchers to gather information for a report. The academy is a private organization of scientists and engineers. It is chartered by Congress and frequently does research at the request of government agencies.
Zavos and Antinori told the panel that they wanted to clone humans because some 70 million males in the world are physically unable to produce children in any other way.
”We want to make this available only to people who have exhausted all other possibilities for reproduction,” said Zavos.
But Boisselier said she believed cloning was a human right.
”It is a fundamental right to reproduce in any way you want,” she said. ”If you want to mix genes with others, then that’s your choice. But if you want to reproduce only with your genes, then it is your right.”
In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo and implanted in the womb of the mother. The offspring would have only the genes from the adult cell. The result would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.
Cloning is opposed by most of the world’s scientists, governments and religions. A bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw human cloning and penalize offenders with prison and heavy fines. No votes have been taken on a companion bill in the Senate.
Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, was created in Scotland in 1997. Since then, whole herds of cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals have been cloned.
Researchers said Tuesday that, despite this experience, the success rate of cloning is still very low, only about 3 percent in some labs. Experts told the panel that fundamental flaws appear in cloned animals. Many die in the womb. Even those successfully born often have abnormalities such as obesity, congenital defects, altered muscle structure and changed metabolism.
”We expect half of our cloned animals to die,” said Jonathan Hill, a researcher at Cornell University. Many starve in the womb, he said, because of placental failures.
Ryuzo Yanagimachi of the University of Hawaii said that even cloned mice that appear to be normal in his laboratory suffer from faulty gene expression.
He said the defects may not even manifest themselves in the short life of a mouse, but they could become serious and life threatening in humans that live for many decades.
On the Net:
National Academies: http://www.nationalacademies.org
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