Apr 05, 2002
By Richard Woodman
LONDON (Reuters Health)
A woman taking part in a controversial human cloning programme is 8 weeks pregnant, Britain's New Scientist magazine reported on its Web site on Friday (www.newscientist.com/news).
It cited Italy's outspoken fertility expert Severino Antinori, one of two specialists leading the effort, as saying: "One woman among thousands of infertile couples in the programme is 8 weeks pregnant."
If true, this would represent the first human cloning pregnancy. However, Antinori's office in Rome declined to confirm or deny the report.
Antinori's colleague, Panos Zavos of the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky, had previously announced that the pair planned to clone a baby by the end of 2001. He also refused to confirm or deny the report to New Scientist.
The magazine, which seeks to popularise science for lay readers, said its report was based on an article in the Gulf News newspaper. Antinori is said to have made the claim at a meeting in the United Arab Emirates. He did not disclose the nationality of the woman or her location.
If confirmed, the pregnancy will cause uproar, New Scientist said. Many countries have banned reproductive cloning and most prominent scientists have warned of the high risk of severe birth defects, as well as very high rates of miscarriage. The technology is also opposed by many on ethical grounds.
Richard Gardner, an expert on early mammalian embryo development who also chaired the UK Royal Society's working group on therapeutic cloning, told the magazine that such a pregnancy would be "grossly irresponsible given the current state of knowledge, even aside from any ethical issues."
Antinori claims to be able to screen the embryos to reduce the risk of abnormalities but Gardner said, "There's no way you can do it--you could only spot gross changes in chromosomes or in the number of chromosomes." There can be single gene defects, he added, and problems with imprinting, which can lead to cancer as well as malformations.
"The chance of a live birth of a normal child is very hard to assess," said Gardner. Studies on other mammals, including sheep, cows, mice and goats, have had limited but variable success, he noted, and there is a very high rate of embryo loss and early death.
Richard Nicholson, editor of the UK-based Bulletin of Medical Ethics, told New Scientist that the report of the pregnancy strengthens the need for international legislation to ban reproductive cloning. Although the practice is banned in some countries, such as the UK, it is still legal in many--including the US, where the Senate is currently debating cloning legislation.
"We need an international law to prevent mavericks like Antinori doing
something that the vast majority of the public and responsible scientists
say they do not want to have done," Nicholson said.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited