Local scientist reacts to human cloning news

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

News that a Massachusetts lab has cloned a human embryo is drawing some heated criticism from around the world. But, a geneticist at Tulsa's Chapman Institute says it's a great day for science.

The cloned embryo is stirring up plenty of controversy. Scientists say it could be the only hope for people with a wide range of diseases because of its potential for stem cell research. Opponents say cloning an embryo and harvesting the cells is killing a human life. Tulsa geneticist, Dr Burhan Say supports the research only for medical purposes, and says we should proceed with caution. "Suppose you clone, you succeeded and he started growing. Then you find out he has several birth defects, not treatable. What are you going to do?"

The Massachusetts scientists who cloned the human embryo say they have no interest in cloning a human being. They only want to use the technology to find cures for diseases. Embryonic stem cells are more desirable than other kinds of transplanted cells because they take on the characteristics of the organ where they're implanted. If they're implanted into a liver, they'll act just like liver cells and the body is less likely to reject them.

Doctor Say, a geneticist for nearly 40 years, believes other sources of stem cells should be exhausted before we turn to cloning. But, he says it's worth exploring. For now, Congress is considering a ban on the cloning technology. Doctor Say says if the bill passes, it won't have much impact. "If you don't do it, someone else will do it. If you don't do it here, they'll do it in Canada, they'll do it in offshore islands, if it works. If it doesn't work, nobody will do it anyway.”

Experts say the results of the Massachusetts experiment are inconclusive and premature. Doctor Say believes we may only be about five to ten years away from cloning a human being.