More MS news articles for Aug 2001

British women join first human clone trial

August 5 2001 BRITAIN
John Follain Rome and Jonathan Leake
A CONTROVERSIAL Italian embryologist is preparing to impregnate up to 200 women with cloned embryos in the world's first attempt to produce a human clone.

Professor Severino Antinori will tell the National Academy of Sciences in Washington on Thursday that he expects to start his cloning programme in November. The announcement will reignite an explosive debate about the ethics and safety of cloning for infertility treatment.

Antinori, whose Rome clinic enabled a 62-year-old woman to have a baby in 1994, said that up to 200 couples from several countries, including eight from Britain, were being selected for the cloning project and would be treated free of charge. His team consists of 20 international specialists.

Antinori said the males in most of the couples under consideration were infertile. "They have no natural way of becoming fathers."

The technique he intends to use is similar to that developed to produce Dolly the sheep. A nucleus is taken from a cell belonging to the man; it is inserted into a woman's egg cell, from which the nucleus has been removed. The embryo is then implanted in her womb.

However, Antinori acknowledged that international hostility to cloning is such that he may be forced to work in a remote country or even on a boat in international waters.

In Ireland, the Medical Council, the regulatory authority for doctors, would be highly unlikely to sanction any doctor under its jurisdiction joining such research. Professor John Bonnar, chairman of Ireland's Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said: "The issue would be unlikely ever to arise here because the widespread view in Ireland is that embryo research is unethical."

In Britain the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which has said it will never approve an application to clone a person, warned that any British doctor working on such a project abroad would come under intense scrutiny.

Scientists have expressed concern that cloned babies would be at high risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or disability. Dr Peter Brinsden, medical director of the Bourn Hall clinic near Cambridge, a leading fertility centre, recently resigned from a group advising Antinori. "It is still too early," he said. "The wastage in human terms will be huge."

According to Antinori, the risk will be reduced by a refined method of cloning and by meticulous screening of embryos. "I can guarantee 99% that I will not produce any monsters," Antinori said.

But Dr Harry Griffin, assistant director of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, which created Dolly in 1996, said the success rate in animals was little more than 1%.

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd