U.S. Lab Clones Human Embryo
Company Says Technology Not Aimed At Creating Human Being
WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2001
(CBS) A U.S. company said on Sunday it had cloned a human embryo in a breakthrough aimed not at creating a human being but at mining the embryo for stem cells used to treat disease.
It is the first time anyone has reported successfully cloning a human embryo, and biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology Inc., based in Worcester, Massachusetts, said it hopes the experiment will lead to tailored treatments for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes.
" Our intention is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to make lifesaving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, AIDS, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, " Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at ACT, said in a statement.
But the breakthrough pushes all the ethical buttons in modern medicine today, and is getting swift the attention from religious and political groups that fear the research could lead to human cloning, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.
The Congress has moved to outlaw all human cloning. A proposed new law is under consideration by the Senate.
Advanced Cell Technology said it had used cloning technology to grow a tiny ball of cells that could then be used as a source of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are a kind of master cell that can grow into any kind of cell in the body.
" Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not individuals. They're only cellular life. They're not human life, " Michael West, chief executive officer of ACT, told NBC's Meet the Press.
West said that the procedure could also be used to treat a host of age-related diseases.
The Washington D.C.-based National Right to Life Committee wasted little time Sunday denouncing the announcement.
" This corporation is creating human embryos for the sole purpose of killing them and harvesting their cells, " said the group's legislative director Douglas Johnson. " Unless Congress acts quickly, this corporation and others will be opening human embryo farms. "
Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer money for the cloning of human beings but Advanced Cell Technologies is a privately funded company and can do as it pleases.
ACT Vice President Joe Cibelli, who led the research, said his team had used classic cloning technology using a human egg and a human skin cell. They scraped the DNA out of the egg cell and replaced it with DNA from the nucleus of the adult cell.
The egg started to grow as if it had been fertilized by a sperm, but instead of becoming a baby it became a ball of cells. The same technology has been used to clone sheep, cattle and monkeys.
The company did not say whether it had successfully removed embryonic stem cells from the cloned embryo.
Both cloning and stem cell technology are highly controversial areas of research in the United States. Stem cells are valued by scientists because they could be used to treat many diseases, including cancer and AIDS.
They can come from adults but the most flexible sources so far seem to be very early embryos so small they are only a ball of a few cells.
Such embryos usually left over from attempts to make test-tube babies are destroyed in the process, so many people oppose it.
President Bush decided earlier this year that federal funds could be used for research on embryonic stem cells, but only on those that had been created before August, found at 11 different academic and private laboratories.
When combined with cloning technology, the hope is that patients themselves could be the source of their own tissue or organs, a technology known as therapeutic cloning.
" Human therapeutic cloning could be used for a host of age-related diseases, " said West.
" If the human cells behave as animal cells have in previous studies, we may have found a means of rebuilding the lifespan of cells at the same time. This would allow us to supply young cells of any kind, identical to the patient, that could be used to address the tidal wave of age-related disease that will accompany the aging of the population. "
The reaction was quick and furious from Congress, where both cloning and stem cell technology have been debated at length in recent years.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he did not yet quite understand what ACT had done. " But it's disconcerting, frankly, " Daschle said on Fox News Sunday. " I think it's going in the wrong direction. "
" I believe it will be a big debate, but at the end of the day I don't think we're going to let the cloning of human embryos go on, " Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, told NBC's " Meet the Press " .
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy told said he agreed. " I find it very, very troubling and I think most of the Congress would, " Leahy, a Democrat, told NBC.
The company said it had created only a single six-celled embryo. But West said that had the embryo been placed in a woman's womb, it could possibly have grown into a human being.
" We took extreme measures to ensure that a cloned human could not result from this technology, " he said.
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November 27, 2001
In light of the recent claims by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Mass. to have cloned the first human embryo, President Bush has called for a ban on cloning. At a Rose Garden appearance, he told reporters, " The use of embryos to clone is wrong. We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what is taking place. "
The Massachusetts company was successful in " tricking " a human egg to start development on its own, without the benefit of a sperm, and was also successful in creating a human embryo through Dolly-style techniques. They claim no interest in producing the live birth of a fully developed human baby through these techniques, but wish to find ways to produce stem cells for treatments for people suffering with Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.
Dr. Arthur Caplan, the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia argues that since scientists have not been able to clone a (fully developed) dog or cat, let alone a human, that there is nothing ethically wrong with using these embryos for stem cell research. " If cloned human embryos or those made by tricking an egg into developing cannot become people, then what is the ethical objection to creating them and using them for stem cell research? "
However, not only is ACT far from cloning a human baby, they are still far from producing embryos that will work for stem cell research. Some scientists have pointed out that embryos are useful for research only when they develop into " blastocysts " of 100 to 150 cells. Only three of ACT's 19 cloned embryos grew beyond a single cell, and none grew larger than a clump of six cells.
At the same time, while all the news has been focused on the company in Massachusetts, a California-based UFO cult claims to already be two steps ahead in the cloning process. Clonaid CEO Brigitte Doisselier told New Scientist that they already had produced a number of human embryos and would make their next announcement upon the actual " birth of a baby. " At this point, they claim their embryos have grown up to eight cells - two more cells than the most developed ACT embryos.
In a statement, the Vatican argued against any scientific justifications for the research, saying that, " The beginning of human life cannot be fixed by convention at a certain stage of embryonic development; it takes place, in reality, already at the first instant of the embryo itself. "
There are many ethical arguments against even the attempt to clone humans. Aside from the information that current clones only develop up to an alleged 8 cells, there are other sources for stem cells than human embryos - including umbilical cords and fat cells. Should stem cell therapies prove to be the cure-all that researchers seek, those therapies should not be developed at the expense of playing with human life. The host of potential moral and ethical implications should give us great pause.
Presidential spokesman Ari Fletcher said Monday that President Bush, " hopes that as a result of this first crossing of the line and the first step into a morally consequential realm of creating a life to take a life in the name of science that the Senate will act on the House legislation so that this procedure can be banned. "