More MS news articles for Nov 2001

UK Doctors Say Cloning Advance Highlights Need for Legislation

LONDON (Reuters Health) Nov 26 - The announcement that a US company has cloned a human embryo underlines the need for strong legislation to stop scientists from making cloned babies, the British Medical Association (BMA) said on Monday.

Biotechnology firm Advanced Cell Technology, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, used a standard cloning technique, nuclear transfer, to create three early embryos that developed to the six-cell stage. The company's scientists took the nucleus out of a human egg and replaced it with the nucleus from an adult cell, and then stimulated the cell to divide.

Advanced Cell Technology said the procedure was aimed not at reproductive cloning to create human beings but at therapeutic cloning to generate stem cells, which scientists hope could produce replacement organs and treat diseases ranging from Alzheimer's disease to diabetes.

Nevertheless, the firm's announcement has unleashed a wave of criticism from opponents to the technology, who are concerned that scientists are tampering with human life.

Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Ethics and Science, stressed the distinction between the two types of cloning.

"This development underlines the need for strong regulation so that therapeutic cloning to extract embryonic stem cells for life-saving treatment, which most of the public supports, can go ahead while human reproductive cloning, which most of the public opposes, cannot," she said.

"A voluntary ban is not enough strict regulation needs to include the inspection of labs involved in therapeutic cloning to ensure the work is done ethically and to a high standard," Nathanson added.

British lawmakers are currently rushing through emergency legislation to close a loophole that keeps current laws from banning reproductive cloning.

The new bill prohibits "the placing in a woman of a human embryo which has been created otherwise than by fertilisation," rendering it a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine, or both.

The legislation was prompted when anti-abortion campaigners ProLife Alliance won a High Court ruling stating that existing UK laws regulate only embryos that result from the union of egg and sperm, not cloned embryos.

The decision raised concerns that embryonic cloning could take place in the UK without any restrictions, and prompted controversial Italian fertility expert Dr. Severino Antinori to say he wanted to move to Britain to clone human babies.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd