Italian scientist prepares to clone humans
By STATHI PAXINOS
Monday 6 August 2001
A controversial Italian embryologist plans to make the world's first attempt to produce a human clone by impregnating up to 200 women with cloned embryos.
Severino Antinori is expected to tell the National Academy of Sciences at a Washington conference this week that he plans to start his cloning program in November, according to a report in Britain's The Sunday Times newspaper.
The move has been condemned by leading Australian experts who have called it a headline-grabbing and money-grabbing exercise that is diverting attention from legitimate gene research.
Bob Williamson, professor of medical genetics at Melbourne University, said Professor Antinori's plans were irresponsible.
He said cloning research on animals, such as that which produced Dolly the sheep, showed that the procedure had an extremely high failure rate.
There was also a high rate of abnormalities and diseases among foetuses and newborns.
" The worst aspect of this is the way in which one or two irresponsible people, whether for the sake of notoriety or for the sake of financial gain, are willing to do something that virtually everyone in the world feels definitely ... should (not) be done, " Professor Williamson said.
He said Professor Antinori's plans would damage the public's perception of legitimate stem cell research into new treatments for conditions such as leukaemia in children and Parkinson's disease.
" There are situations such as new forms of treatment for cancer where one does some things that may be experimental, that may be risky, but because there is a serious medical need you take the risk, " Professor Williamson said.
" But in this case there is no medical need. There is no conceivable justification for attempting human cloning from the point of view of medicine. "
Alan Trounson, the director of Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, said Professor Antinori's project was unethical and " not welcomed at all " .
" It's not very different from knowing the effects of thalidomide and going ahead, " Professor Trounson said. " We certainly know what will happen. There will be a significant number of children who will have major abnormalities and there's also risks to the mothers, so you couldn't argue this as being a reasonable medical procedure. "
Professor Antinori, whose clinic in Rome enabled a 62-year-old woman to have a baby in 1994, said 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.
He said the men in most of the couples under consideration were infertile. " They have no natural way of becoming fathers, " he was quoted as saying.
The Sunday Times reported that Professor Antinori intended to use a technique that involved taking a nucleus from a cell belonging to the man and inserting it into a woman's egg cell from which the nucleus had been removed. The embryo would then be implanted in her womb.
However, Roger Short, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Melbourne University, called Professor Antinori's plans " pathetic " .
" The scientific community is 100 per cent against the idea of cloning adult human individuals, and he just shows that he is not one of the scientific community, " Professor Short said.
- with AGENCIES