Bizarre unveiling of ‘cloning milestone’

One sceptic present called it a “circus”, and it was certainly a bizarre way of announcing what could be a milestone in medical science – if it proves true.

The news conference called by controversial fertility expert Paul Zavos at a smart central London hotel lasted an hour, and it was around five minutes before the end when he dropped his bombshell.

He announced he had transferred a cloned embryo into a woman’s womb.

The claim was greeted with an instant barrage of scepticism by the audience of journalists and interested observers, and Dr Zavos fielded some searching questions.

Like some others who carry out cloning research, he has been criticised for not providing detailed scientific proof to support his claims.

Furthermore, many scientists feel human cloning research is inherently unethical, because of number of miscarriages and deformities seen in cloned animals.

The technique Dr Zavos claims to have performed also happens to be illegal in the UK, although he says he didn’t perform the procedure here (or in the US or continental Europe).

‘No criminal’

But a defensive Dr Zavos told his audience: “I’m not here to challenge the system. I’m not here to do anything but carry on what we’re doing and do it right.

“When people liken me to a criminal. Well – I’ve never had a speeding ticket and I’ve never been to jail.”

In response to repeated demands to provide evidence for his claim, Dr Zavos insisted people should accept the facts as he presented them.

Following that bold assertion, laughter greeted his explanation for why he chose to publish papers about his research in lesser known journals rather than the higher profile Science and Nature.

They “had not got the expertise to review the papers”, he said, and “they will not publish the full manuscripts”.

Dr Zavos sees himself as a pioneer, in the same way that Professor Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe broke new ground when they developed test tube baby technology in the 1970s.

He said: “They took a big step when they created Louise Brown.”

He was defending offering couples embryo splitting – where an embryo would be split into two, offering the possibility of ‘two chances for the price of one’ for a successful conception, or of one part of the embryo being stored as a stem cell bank for the baby that was born.

‘Bold step’

Embryo splitting has only been carried out so far in animals, and Dr Zavos admitted he could not guarantee it would be safe when it was carried out on human embryos.

But he added: “That’s the bold step we have to take.”

He added: “Critics may find my work morally or ethically offensive. I respect their opinions.

“But I would do anything to help them [the couples who visit his clinic].”

He said he was offering infertile couples the assistance they wanted.

“They give me their consent.”

Accused of giving false hope, and praying on vulnerable people, he added: “You are insulting the intelligence of these infertile couples. Some of them have PhDs and MDs.”

Dr Zavos’s work continues to attract controversy.

And it appears it will not end until he can introduce the world to a cloned baby clutching its DNA test results in its tiny little hand.

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