May 28, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters
The University of California-San Francisco confirmed on Friday that it had hosted a large-scale drive to clone human embryos for therapeutic purposes, the first major public institution to acknowledge pursuing the controversial research.
The UCSF project, which began three years ago and has since been temporarily shelved, sought to derive embryonic stem cells for medical research, not to clone human beings.
But the university's research work, which was reported on Friday by the Wall Street Journal, looked likely to fuel debate in the US Senate where lawmakers are considering moves to outlaw all human cloning.
"The general point is these experiments and others like them underscore for us the importance of proceeding forward and not criminalizing science," said Keith Yamamoto, vice dean for research at the university's medical school.
UCSF's announcement makes it the first major US university to acknowledge an embryo cloning program, which thus far has only publicly been undertaken by Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology firm.
The UCSF project was led by embryologist Dr. Roger Pedersen, a leading scientist who subsequently relocated to Britain to escape the increasingly inflamed US debate over the morality of cloning and stem cell research.
Dr. Pedersen's work on therapeutic cloning was funded with state money and by the biotechnology company Geron Corp. in order to comply with a 1995 law which bars the use of federal funds for studies in which embryos are destroyed.
According to UCSF, Dr. Pedersen's research group conducted two sets of embryo-cloning experiments, one in early 1999 and another in early 2001.
The scientists sought to transplant the DNA of adult human cells into eggs from donors at the university fertility clinic, a process aimed at producing blastocysts from which stem cells could be harvested.
University officials said the project failed to produce conclusive results and had been shelved--at least for now.
But while no therapeutic cloning research is currently under way at UCSF, officials said the university, already at the forefront of US stem cell research, stood ready to resume the cloning studies if conditions permit.
University officials said they had not publicized the project out of
deference to Dr. Pedersen, who felt ongoing research should not be made
public until it had definitive results.
© 2002 Reuters Ltd