ROME--A plan to create the first human clone announced here on Friday is drawing widespread condemnation from the scientific community. Experts worry that the three researchers who are intent on treading into this moral and political minefield may have the expertise to carry out their plan--with potentially disastrous consequences for both the mother and her offspring.
The pronouncement comes from a trio composed of Severino Antinori, a fertility expert at the Institute of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology in Rome; Panos Zavos, a reproductive physiologist at the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky; and Avi Ben-Abraham, an American-Israeli biotechnologist whose current affiliation was not revealed. That wasn't the only thing kept hush-hush. Speaking at a workshop at Antinori's institute, Ben-Abraham said that the team has "unlimited funding"--he declined to reveal the source--and plans to carry out the experiments in an undisclosed Mediterranean country.
The group wants to use cloning to help childless couples--particularly infertile men--start families. "Cloning may be the last frontier ... in our attempts aimed at defeating male sterility," says Antinori, who is no stranger to controversy: In 1994, he used in vitro fertilization to impregnate a 62-year-old woman. Antinori claims to have 600 couples on a waiting list.
One of the few scientific details of the project revealed at the meeting was that the group plans to follow essentially the same approach that was used to produce the sheep Dolly. Zavos claims that the group has many scientists on its board, including animal cloning experts; he refused to reveal their names, citing "security" concerns.
Many researchers have denounced the effort. "This is absolutely preposterous," says Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He warns that the cloned mammals often suffer severe health problems. Dolly's creator, Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, adds that his team recently decided to kill a lamb that looked perfectly normal but couldn't stop hyperventilating. "I would like to know what they propose to do with a human in a situation like this," Wilmut says. Experts say the mother of a human clone might also be at risk. Mammalian clones are often extra-large, and pregnant mothers become dangerously swollen and frequently miscarry.
Undaunted, Antinori revealed that the trio would meet in October in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to fine-tune their plan; they hope to start implanting embryos within 2 years. Said Zavos, "the genie is out of the bottle."
Andrology Institute of America