NBC News Feb 4, 2001
Pioneer in new scientific frontier determined to create the first human clone
Cows, goats, mice, sheep — scientists are on their way to cloning a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals. Now some are turning their attention to cloning a human being. Science fiction? One man says it’s closer than you think. He’s hoping his team of scientists will be the first to take us there. The question is should we go? And if we do venture into that brave new world, where will it end? Stone Phillips reports.
“WE’RE READY TO go because we think that
the genie’s out of her bottle,” says Dr. Panos Zavos.
Panos Zavos is the director of the Andrology
Institute of America, and together with his wife, an OBGYN, he runs
the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine. They have helped thousands
of couples conceive through advances like in vitro fertilization.
Zavos says the techniques for cloning aren’t that much different,
and he believes they should be developed and made available as a
A RISK OF MALFORMATIONS?
But just how realistic, ethical, or medically safe is human
cloning? In the animal experiments, gross abnormalities and early
deaths have been common. In the case of Dolly, the cloned sheep,
it took 277 tries, and some of the clones before her successful birth
were horribly malformed. There is a hit-or-miss trial-and-error element
to all this.
But these aren’t sheep or cows or
mice. These are human beings. “Sure,” says Zavos. “We
In 1997, President Clinton banned the use of federal funds for human cloning research saying, “Attempting to clone a human being is unacceptably dangerous to the child and morally unacceptable to society.” The Food and Drug Administration has not approved it. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has condemned it. So has the pope.
But next month, in Rome of all places, Zavos and a team of international scientists — governed only by their conscience — will begin establishing guidelines for human cloning, the first step toward actually doing it. The cloning will take place in an undisclosed country, involving a select group of volunteer couples, some of whom may be Americans.
The science is no secret. DNA from the person to be cloned will be injected into an egg stripped of its genetic material. Then comes the tricky part, turning the egg into an embryo, by jump-starting the process of cell division through an electrical or chemical reaction. If it sounds like a manufacturing process, it is. And like any plant manager looking to turn out a successful product, Zavos says quality control is key.
“Quality control is something that we scientists apply all the time,” he says. “It’s Q.C. It’s a way of measuring your success.”
But we’re talking about a human
embryo here. Can he quality control that? “We can find out
if that particular embryo carries any hereditary diseases, any genetic
deficiencies, and then we decide that embryo should not be implanted,” he
NOT WITHOUT PROBLEMS
How many discarded embryos, miscarriages, abortions will be allowed for each couple? “We hope none,” says Zavos.
But that’s not realistic. “We will be expecting, but obviously we’re going to take all precautionary measures to see to it that this doesn’t happen,” he says.
He says he doesn’t want to deliver anything but a healthy baby, but what if abnormalities don’t show up until after the first trimester of the pregnancy? “We’ll monitor those deficiencies,” says Zavos.
And what if the couple wants to go forward
with the pregnancy and have the child? “It’s their choice,” he
The way Zavos describes it, a healthy human clone could be born in the next three years, if not sooner.
NOT AN EXACT REPLICA
Will these “genetic twins” be exact replicas of their
DNA donors? Zavos says no, that everything from developing in a different
womb to growing up in a different world will affect the person the
Would a Michael Jordan clone be a great
athlete? Again, Zavos says maybe, maybe not. But he can see the potential
for an unconscionable kind of trade, where cloning someone “just
like Mike” could become big business.
“That is why,” says Zavos, “it’s very important that this technology is developed and it’s developed sensibly, seriously, and responsibly enough for the world to manage.”
Already, Zavos says he has received dozens of cloning requests — not only from infertile couples, but grieving parents who have lost a child and want to bring that child back to life.
Ultimately, who will decide who gets cloned? And where will the line be drawn?
“It is here and it is for the world to harness,” says Dr. Zavos. “We hope to educate the world and tell the world that this technology can be used safely and securely enough without being abused. And that’s really what people are afraid of. They don’t want monsters. They don’t want armies of cloned individuals out there. That’s not going to happen.”
The Zavos team is not the only group to announce plans to clone a human. A fringe religious sect called the Raelians say they’re working with a couple who hope to clone the 10-month-old child they lost.
Dr. Zavos says this should not be a race and that his team will follow strict scientific and ethical guidelines.
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