More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Congress urged not to ban all human cloning

By Julie Rovner

WASHINGTON, Dec 04 (Reuters Health) - Officials from the Massachusetts firm that last week announced it had cloned a human embryo urged a Senate committee Tuesday not to ban cloning procedures aimed at treating disease.

"We're not talking about the cloning of humans," Dr. Michael West, president and CEO of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. "We're talking about the cloning of cells."

West said the anticipated product of his firm's technique, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, cannot even properly be called an embryo. The technique involves extracting the DNA from an egg then replacing it with DNA from a person's body cell. The egg can then begin to divide as if it has been fertilized, producing a source of stem cells that are genetically identical to the person who supplied the DNA.

"We're talking about a little clump of cells with no body cells and no intent to form body cells," West said of the 5- to 7-day-old embryos the company hopes to engineer in order to obtain stem cells. Not until an embryo is around 14 days old, West said, do its cells begin to differentiate.

Dartmouth Professor Ronald Green, who chairs the firm's ethics advisory board, agreed with West. "As we reviewed the biological qualities of these cloned organisms, we concluded that they would not be equated morally with the children or adults whose lives could be saved or health restored by therapeutic cloning techniques," he said.

Dr. Bert Vogelstein, the Johns Hopkins professor who chaired the National Institutes of Health panel on stem cell research, said that what ACT is doing should not be called cloning at all.

Rather, he said, it could be called "nuclear transplantation." And without such techniques, he noted, it will likely be difficult to use stem cells as actual therapies because individuals will probably reject cells not created from their own tissues.

But Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) said that he and many others disagree with the scientists about the status of cloned embryos.

"There is moral significance to the embryo," he said.

Brownback said he intends to continue to push for legislation to delay any human cloning research for 6 months--which the Senate tentatively rejected Monday night.

"This is a moment in the history of humanity. We should pause and really think this through," he said.

West, however, said a 6-month moratorium could result in an additional 541,800 people dying of degenerative diseases that applied stem cell technology could potentially treat.

Subcommittee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he plans to introduce legislation that would ban the implantation of a cloned embryo into a woman's uterus, but would let other cloning research proceed.

"My legislation would protect our values by banning reproductive cloning," he said, "but protect our health by fostering research."

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited