Cloned human embryo reported

Fertility specialist says he plans implantation
The Boston Globe, Apr. 10, 2003
By Wendy Goldman Rohm, Globe Correspondent, 4/10/2003

A Kentucky fertility specialist says he has created a cloned human embryo that he plans to implant in a woman in the next month if genetic tests show that the embryo is healthy. Scientists say it could be the most credible human cloning experiment to date.

Unlike other supposed cloning efforts that have been cloaked in secrecy, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos is about to report his results in a scientific journal published by one of the world’s most respected scientists, in-vitro fertilization pioneer Dr. Robert Edwards.

In ”Human Reproductive Cloning: The Time is Near,” Zavos describes the work he did to prepare a 10-cell cloned embryo for human reproduction.

”We do have the one embryo. And I have seven other patient cases, for whom we are about to create cloned embryos,” said Zavos, who is the head of ZDL Inc., of Lexington, Ky., which supplies equipment for sperm testing.

Zavos was reluctant to go into details about his human cloning work, but said his team has become adept at making embryos that are genetic duplicates of an existing person.

”We’re producing them left and right,” he said, and freezing them for possible implantation.

Zavos is seen as on the fringe by some in the scientific mainstream, but he has far more legitimate credentials than the Raelians, a religious cult that received widespread attention with their claim to have cloned a human baby last winter. The UFO-worshiping group has not produced proof, and scientists now generally believe the claim was a hoax.

By contrast, Zavos has moral support from Edwards, who created the world’s first test-tube baby in 1978 and was rewarded with the prestigious Lasker Prize for medical research in 2001. Edwards said he empathizes with the controversy surrounding researchers in human cloning. In the early days of creating a human embryo outside the womb, he said critics demonized his work and tried to outlaw it.

”The Zavos paper is the first” detailed report with original data on human cloning for reproduction, Edwards said in a telephone interview from his office in Cambridge, England, ”and it’s quite a good start and was much needed.”

Zavos’s work, to be published in the next issue of Reproductive BioMedicine Online, is sure to intensify the debate over human cloning, an asexual form of reproduction that some say is unethical and too fraught with risk for the clone’s long term health.

In cloning, a body cell from a DNA donor is placed inside an egg that has had its own genetic material removed. The egg is then stimulated to divide as an embryo, either electrically or chemically.

The US House of Representatives voted in February to criminalize human cloning; the Senate hasn’t yet decided.

Yesterday, a researcher who has studied cloning questioned the value of Zavos’s paper.

”I’m surprised that it was deemed meritorious by Robert Edwards,” said Gerald P. Schatten, director of the Pittsburgh Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. ”Human reproductive cloning is unsafe, unethical, and ought to be illegal.”

Shatten’s research on cloning, scheduled to be published tomorrow in the journal Science, shows that fundamental flaws in embryonic development might make therapeutic cloning of nonhuman primates difficult, and reproductive cloning of primates — nonhuman and human alike — impossible.

But Zavos said all the cloned embryos will undergo genetic screening just like fertilized eggs created at in-vitro fertilization centers. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis screens embryos to make sure no genetic errors are present. A single cell from an embryo is all that is needed to conduct this test, Edwards said.

In his paper, Zavos said his work will be advanced ”from all the difficulties that the animal cloning experts encountered” and will allow ”infertile couples to safely have healthy, genetically related children.”

”The moral of the story,” Zavos said, ”is when it comes to humans we don’t cut corners. There is no comparison to what we’re doing with what has been done in animals. With humans, we do it right or we don’t do it.”

Zavos said the cloning work is being done in an overseas lab where such research is not illegal. While no federal law has been passed to ban reproductive cloning, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a ban on human cloning for reproductive purposes, but allows therapeutic cloning for use in medical research.

Edwards said he was glad Zavos brought the work to him. ”I suspect he chose me because he knows I’ve been through it myself. In 1982 they went after me for IVF. They were after my blood and they didn’t get it! They told me what I was doing was illegal, illicit, and immoral.”

More than 1 million babies have been born through in-vitro fertilization..

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