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The 'cloning' of little Cady

By Rachel Ellis and Vivienne Parry, Mail on Sunday
Last updated at 11:47am on 29th August 2004

A controversial fertility expert is set to provoke international uproar this week by claiming he has taken the first step towards cloning a dead human being.

In what many will regard as a grotesque experiment, maverick American scientist Dr Panos Zavos will announce that he has taken DNA material from two corpses and used it to create embryonic clones of the dead people.

Zavos claims he has succeeded in taking DNA from the dead people - an 11-year-old girl called Cady and a 33-year-old man, both of whom died in road accidents - and implanting it into living eggs that subsequently divided in the laboratory to form embryos.

But an attempt to make a third clone, using DNA taken from a dummy and nasal extractor belonging to a baby who died, has so far failed to provide positive results.

The controversial experiment is certain to provoke a furious backlash from critics, who will accuse Zavos, from Lexington, Kentucky, of using gruesome 'Frankenstein' science and of 'playing God'.

It will also lead to accusations that he is exploiting vulnerable people by raising false hopes that they can bring their dead loved ones back.

Earlier this year Dr Zavos claimed to have implanted a cloned human embryo in a woman's womb. The announcement was greeted with derision by mainstream scientists and fertility experts who branded his work 'odious'.

He later revealed the attempt had been unsuccessful.

The doctor will announce details of his macabre new research in London on Tuesday, but The Mail on Sunday has been given an exclusive preview of a film to be screened on Channel 4 News tonight, in which he claims to be helping three families to create a genetic replica of loved ones who have died.

In a film by award-winning British documentary maker Peter Williams, who recorded the creation of the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown, in 1978, Zavos claims to have implanted DNA from the corpses into living cow eggs.

These are bigger than a human egg and therefore easier to manipulate. The cells started to divide to create embryos but were not allowed to go beyond 64 cells.

Zavos says he would never consider putting the resulting 'hybrid' embryos into a human womb - nor could they survive anyway.

But he claims the same technique could be used to implant DNA from a corpse into a human egg, creating an embryo that, if implanted into a womb, could develop into a true clone of the dead person.

Although, in the past, Dr Zavos has submitted some of his work to an online medical journal run by Robert Edwards - one of the pioneers of IVF treatment - where it is subject to 'peer review' by acknowledged experts in the field, he has never published any of his research in more established medical journals.

Nor, apart from the film, is there any independent corroboration of his latest claim.

But it comes at a time when the scientific establishment is becoming increasingly anxious to put a halt to unregulated human cloning experiments.

Tomorrow, the Royal Society, Britain's most respected scientific institution, and 67 of the world's national science academies will call on the United Nations to introduce a ban on human reproductive cloning.

Dr Zavos, however, remains unrepentant. Last night he defended his work, and said: "This is powerful stuff. If anyone ever accused me of playing God, this is as close as you can get.

"'I am not God, I play no God, I just do God's work.

"We are not talking about Hollywood here, we are not talking about fiction, we are talking about the realities of life.

"This even makes me a bit nervous. But we do not see any difference between reproductive cloning and the post-mortem cloning."

Zavos insisted that desperate relatives from the United States contacted him in all three cases and begged him to clone a loved one who had died.

The mother of 11-year-old Cady contacted him in August 2002 and gave him a blood sample taken from her daughter 26 hours after she died in a car crash.

In disturbing footage, which will undoubtedly lead to accusations that he is exploiting innocent people who are overcome with grief, the mother said:

"Cady was simply everything to me. If there is one chance in a billion that it would work, of course I want to do that.

"This is for Cady. This is a mother expressing love for a daughter and trying to give her daughter life. What I am doing is trying to give her biological presence in this world continuation."

Dr Zavos claims his technique has been most successful using the DNA from a 33-year-old man who died in a motorbike accident.

Askin sample was taken from his upper arm 35 to 40 hours after he died. After finding living cells, DNA was extracted and implanted into a hollowed out cow's egg, which was then given an electrical and chemical stimulus to start cell division.

In this case, Dr Zavos claims the cloning process resulted in 60 per cent of the eggs beginning to divide.

One embryo grew to 64 cells - well beyond the size of the embryo put back during standard IVF treatment, he claims.

According to conventional scientific wisdom, the prospect of cloning a dead human is still a long way off.

Zavos's current research uses cows' eggs and there is no guarantee he would achieve the same results using a human egg.

Even if that worked, the chance of the embryo implanting in the womb and developing into a baby is tiny.

But if Zavos's experiments did succeed in producing a living clone, it would not be the equivalent of resurrection.

The process would merely create a genetically identical person, a kind of identical twin.

Although Zavos admits he cannot resurrect the dead, he believes his research could provide a close match.

He said: "I don't wish to be involved in resurrecting anyone. The dead people are gone.

"But they left behind the cells that their relatives wish to use to reproduce a child. That is where it begins for me, not where the source of the material is."

 


 

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