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Archive for Saturday, March 10, 2001

Researchers forge ahead on human cloning

March 10, 2001

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— Looking to shatter the taboo of human cloning, an international research team declared Friday that nothing can stop the creation of human beings by the kind of methods that produced the cloned sheep Dolly.

"The genie is out of the bottle," said Panos Zavos, a reproduction researcher who resigned earlier this month from his longtime post at the University of Kentucky to help lead the human cloning effort. "Dolly is here, and we are next."

Italian gynecologist Dr. Severino Antinori is pushing ahead with a
project to clone a human.

Italian gynecologist Dr. Severino Antinori is pushing ahead with a project to clone a human.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has said it has control over any human cloning research and that at this point it would not permit it.

Friday's conference had a raucous, sometimes circus-like atmosphere. The narrow Rome hospital lecture hall was crammed with rival researchers, skeptical local doctors and a swarm of international news media.

Severino Antinori, an Italian gynecologist who boasted in January that a human would be cloned within a year, used the Rome conference to try to shift the focus of human cloning from ethical questions and fears of diabolical manipulation to the quiet desires of infertile couples.

"Cloning creates ordinary children," claimed Antinori, who was already well known for pushing the limits of reproductive assistance. They will be "unique individuals, not photocopies of individuals."

While his fellow scientists from the United States, Austria, Italy and Israel outlined their areas of expertise, Antinori repeatedly shouted down visiting researchers and reporters who raised objections to the prospect of human cloning.

Toward the end of the four-hour gathering, a young medical researcher read a statement from Ermelando Cosmi, one of the two directors of gynecology at Umberto I Polyclinic, objecting to a human cloning conference being held at the public hospital.

"They use the word 'create,' they talk about sacrificing embryos," said Nathan Ogbonna, a 34-year-old Polyclinic gynecologist from Nigeria, echoing his colleagues' doubts after the conference. "Now anything that you are able to do is considered permissible. Not for me."

Clones are made from a single adult cell joined with an egg cell, the genes of which have been removed.

Researchers trying to clone animals have reported that many of their attempts have ended in disaster, with monster-like creations and repeated premature deaths.

Dolly, the British sheep created by cloning in 1997, came after the artificial production of 29 embryos, though just a single pregnancy.

Zavos said that for ethical reasons the human effort will not use "an animal model."

After announcing in January that 10 infertile couples wanted to be part of the human project, the team said it has been flooded by others seeking to have children through cloning.

"They come to us and they don't call you names, they don't cuss you, they don't say you're unethical," Zavos said. "They said, 'Help me."'

The American researcher said some 600 to 700 couples with fertility problems in the United States, Japan, Argentina, Britain and elsewhere want to take part in the cloning efforts.

Single women, couples who want to have another child after the death of other offspring, and childless couples advanced in years have all been ruled out as candidates.

Zavos would not say who is financing the research team's effort, where it will take place or what other scientists are taking part in the research. He said the team has "unlimited funding" from private sources and that "we don't want the government in this project."

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