By Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Editor
Doctors trying to clone human beings have published the first scientific evidence of their success.
American fertility doctor Panos Zavos has produced the first data to show that a human embryo, intended for reproduction, has been cloned. Zanos, the director of a Kentucky fertility clinic, is using the controversial technique to treat childless couples.
Details of the cloned embryo, which lasted for four days, have been published in the online medical journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online, edited by British IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards. The embryo was cloned in the same way as Dolly the sheep, using a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer. A cell was taken from one of Zavos's sterile patients and fused with a donor egg which had had the nucleus, containing its DNA, removed.
In the paper, Zavos explains: 'Recently, our team of scientific and medical experts has created the first human cloned embryo for reproductive purposes. The embryo was the end result of using nine microsurgically enucleated human donor eggs and fusing them via electrical stimulation and activation with whole human cells from a patient desiring to have a child via somatic cell nuclear transfer.
'The resulting cloned embryo was allowed to develop further in culture for four days and reached the eight to 10-cell stage, which showed a rate of development equivalent to that of normal IVF embryos.'
Zavos claims his team has taken a responsible approach to human cloning. 'From the beginning of our efforts, we have never stated that we intended to create the first cloned embryo and the first human being for reproductive purposes by ignoring the public's concerns and the scientific critics. We also never intended to ignore the contradictory results that scientists in
the field of animal cloning have obtained during the past years. We merely wanted to learn from all the difficulties that the animal cloning experts encountered in order to take the criticisms and the public's concerns as seriously as possible and turn them into positive developments.
'It was quite evident to us from the beginning of this debate that we could eventually allow infertile couples to safely have healthy, genetically related children through somatic cell nuclear transfer methods.'
Zavos stated in the paper that the embryo was not cloned in the United States. Edwards, who created the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, with his colleague Patrick Steptoe in 1978, says this is the first published report on a human cloning programme.
'We publish today a brief commentary from Zavos on steps towards human reproductive cloning. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first formal report on steps leading towards this objective.
'Having never disguised his intentions in this respect, Zavos presents brief data on his approach to human cloning by utilising methods seemingly compatible with cloning certain animal species. This openness is welcome and timely, especially since so much secrecy has characterised this field.'
But Dr Azim Surani, of the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK Institute in Cambridge, is dismissive of the paper.
'What is the purpose of the publication by Zavos? I am not convinced at all that it contains enough information to reach any valid conclusions. The authors claim a full paper will be published. The present paper is broad-brush treatment of a difficult subject that lacks attention to detail and, as such, creates a false impression of the state of knowledge and efficiency of the procedure,' he said.
In 2001, US firm Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) announced that it had cloned the first human embryos but had no intention of allowing them to grow to human beings. The company's interest is in therapeutic cloning - the harvesting of cells from embryos to create treatments for a range of conditions from Parkinson's disease to diabetes.
Since then a Chinese team, led by Dr Lu Guangziu, has claimed to have cloned human embryos but again only for research purposes. The embryos are not allowed to survive beyond a few days.
Last year the Sunday Herald ran the first interview with an infertile couple trying to clone a baby through Zavos. Bill, a secondary teacher in his mid-50s and Kathy, a sales representative in her mid-40s, turned to the radical procedure because they have no other way of producing their own child. The couple, from northeast America, have been trying to have children for the past nine years. Zavos's data is the first evidence to emerge in the race to clone a human being.
In December Clonaid, part of the Raelian cult, claimed to have cloned the world's first baby, Eve. Clonaid president, Dr Brigitte Bosselier, claims to have cloned another four babies since then but has failed to provide any evidence. The sect initially promised to conduct independent DNA tests to prove that baby Eve was a clone but this never took place. Last month the sect issued photographs of a baby said to be a clone but experts have dismissed the claims as a publicity stunt.
A more credible contender in the race to clone a human is Italian gynaecologist Professor Severino Antinori. The director of a well-known fertility clinic in Rome has been expected to announce his first clone for months. Last year Antinori claimed that a woman was more than eight months' pregnant with a cloned embryo - a claim he later retracted.
He also announced that a cloned baby would be born in January but, again, no evidence has been published. One expert has suggested this may be because his programme has suffered setbacks and miscarriages.
Cloning a human being is both the holy grail and taboo ambition of modern science. Last year, Clonaid, a cult, claimed they had cloned baby Eve, but have not yet produced independent evidence that she or another four babies born since have been cloned. Dr Panos Zavos and his team claimed to have collected cells from seven people wishing to be cloned. They have been working on the project for several years. Catch Up Cloning a human being is both the holy grail and taboo ambition of modern science.
Last year, Clonaid, a cult, claimed they had cloned baby Eve, but have not yet produced independent evidence that she or another four babies born since have been cloned. Dr Panos Zavos and his team claimed to have collected cells from seven people wishing to be cloned. They have been working on the project for several years.
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