Successful human cloning cannot be accomplished in two years and probably should not even be attempted within that time frame, say fertility experts and medical ethicists.
Reacting to an announcement in Rome Friday that a new human cloning lab will be set up in Europe later this year and a human clone produced in two years, Dr. Daniel Shapiro, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Biology Associates, a large Atlanta-based in-vitro fertilization clinic, said the estimates are unrealistic.
At the same time, however, a sect based in Canada says it has already made progress in a human cloning effort of its own.
Shapiro pointed out that cloning techniques used to produce Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, and subsequent animal clones "are incredibly inefficient," he said. One reason is that it requires "hundreds and hundreds of embryos to get a pregnancy," he told United Press International. "With humans you just don't have that much genetic material available."
But even if enough DNA were available, Shapiro and
others say that safety concerns are daunting.
He warned that the "handling of nuclear material" might also result in alterations in the genome, either sequence expansion or contraction: "Let's face it, you end up with a molecule that did not develop as nature intended it to develop."
Dr. Severino Antinori, an Italian fertility expert, and his American partner, Dr. Panos Zavos, disagree. They say they are ready to open a laboratory for human cloning in an unidentified Mediterranean country this fall and will clone a human within two years.
Antinori and Zavos are hosting what's billed as a scientific seminar on human cloning in Rome. At the meeting they said 600 patients are interested in therapeutic human cloning, the term used to describe cloning used as a treatment for infertility.
Antinori has made headlines in recent years by using in-vitro fertilization technology to impregnate women in their 50s and 60s. Zavos, an expert in male infertility, owns a fertility clinic in Lexington, Kentucky.
Shapiro is not persuaded, however. He told UPI, "I think that technically it may be possible to make an embryo, but will that embryo develop into a perfectly healthy human?"
The answer is probably no, said Dr. Gerard Magill, director of the center for medical ethics at the University of St. Louis School of Medicine, Mo.
"What Zavos and Antinori are promising, a cloned human baby in two years, is pie-in-the-sky. It's offering false hope to thousands of couples seeking a baby," he said in an interview with UPI. Because the claim is false it is also "professionally unethical to make such a claim," he added.
He pointed out that cloning experiments in other species have been plagued with problems, ranging from oversized fetuses to malformed internal organs and grossly enlarged umbilical cords, so it makes sense that similar problems face a human cloning experiment.
But while some experts think that Antinori and Zavos may have the expertise to pull-off a successful human cloning experiment, another cloning project is far ahead of them.
Clonaid, a private cloning project sponsored by a sect known as Raelians, has had a lab up and running since October.
Clonaid's science officer, Brigitte Boisselier, a chemical
engineer by training, said her researchers spent the fall and most
of the winter working on experiments with pig and cow
"We are very optimistic. If all goes well we plan to begin to implant embryos in later this month," said Boisslier. She said, however, that her estimated timetable is "very optimistic. Others say it would be next March before we get an implantable embryo."
Raelians, based in Canada but claiming 50,000 members worldwide, believe that humans are actually clones of an extraterrestrial race called the Elohim. The Raelians see cloning as the path to "true immortality," but their research lab is being financed by an American couple with a more immediate goal -- replacing their infant son who died as the result of a botched surgery.
The couple is underwriting the Clonaid lab with proceeds of the malpractice suit that followed their son's death. The Clonaid scientists are using skin cells from the dead child as the source for cloning material. "
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