RESEARCHERS say they're determined to attempt human cloning

Wednesday, August 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of a Bahamas biotech firm, hinting that human cloning experiments were underway in her lab, defended what she said was a human right to reproduce using one's own genes.

``We should not be the cause of public fears,'' Brigitte Boisselier told a committee of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday. ``I am doing it in a very responsible manner.''

Boisselier, a research scientist and director of a company called Clonaid, said reports of serious congenital defects and fetal death among cloned livestock have not swayed her determination to attempt to clone humans.

Her comments came during a hearing designed to allow academy committee members to gather information for a report on human cloning expected to be released next month. The academy is a private, nonprofit organization of distinguished scientists and engineers. It is chartered by Congress and often does research at the request of government agencies.

Boisselier declined to confirm or deny that her company had cloned human embryos, but she told the committee her lab was able to identify cells that can be safely cloned and that she was ``comfortable with those results.''

``I am doing it and hope I can publish that soon and show it to you,'' she told the committee of experts.

She dismissed ethical concerns about reproductive human cloning, calling it ``the arrogance of telling people what they should do with their own genes.''

``We should be able to use our genes the way we want,'' said Boisselier. ``It is your right to reproduce yourself using your genes.''

Boisselier also told the committee that there is no need to refine the cloning technique with further animal research.

``I believe we have enough information to proceed with human cloning,'' she said. ``I don't believe working with animal cloning will give us much more information.''

Two other researchers, Panayiotis Michael Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute in Lexington, Ky., and Dr. Severino Antinori of the University of Rome, said they were continuing with human cloning research as a means of allowing infertile men to have children. However, they said they had not yet attempted to clone a human being.

The comments came during a day of angry exchanges between people on both sides of the cloning issue. While scientists gave testimony in the auditorium, people on opposing sides met in the stately lobby of the National Academy's building, and, under the glare of television lights, shouted at each other. One side contended cloning was a human reproductive right; the other said it would be an unethical, perhaps dangerous form of human experimentation.

Animal researchers warned the committee that cloning produces a high level of failures, with many animals dying before birth and others born with abnormalities.

Asked if these problems might be corrected in human cloning experiments, Alan Colman, director of PPL Therapeutics, made clear his opposition to such research.

``Practice makes perfect, but it is unethical to practice on humans,'' said Colman, whose Scottish lab cloned Dolly, the famous sheep. He said that attempting human cloning would result in miscarriages, deaths and abnormal births. ``I don't see that it is ethical to take on that practice, now or forever.''

Zavos and Antinori told the panel that they want to clone humans because some 70 million males worldwide are physically unable to produce children in any other way.

``We want to make this available only to people who have exhausted all other possibilities for reproduction,'' said Zavos.

But Boisselier said she believed cloning was a human right. She said many infertile couples yearn to be able to reproduce using cloning.

``There is a huge demand,'' said Boisselier. ``A lot of people would like to have a baby using this technology.''

In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo and implanted in the womb of the mother. The offspring would have only the genes from the adult cell. The result would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.

Cloning is opposed by most of the world's scientists, governments and religions, some of which issued fresh statements of opposition on Tuesday. A bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw human cloning and penalize offenders with prison and heavy fines. No votes have been taken on a companion bill in the Senate.

Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, was created in Scotland in 1997. Since then, whole herds of cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals have been cloned.