FRANKENSTEIN OR SAVIOUR OF HUMANITY?; Human Embryo Clone Sparks Row

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTINE SMITH

THIS is the American scientist who led the team creating the first cloned human embryo.

Jose Cibelli and his research team reproduced a fertilised egg in a laboratory using an existing human cell instead of sperm.

The experiment was halted after the clone separated into six cells.

A spokesman for the project in Massachusetts admitted the cells may have grown into a baby if it had been planted in a womb.

But Cibelli, who is vice president of Advanced Cell Technology, denies his company are playing God.

The firm say the technique could be used to create near- perfect transplant organs and combat age-related diseases.

Boss Dr Robert Lanza stressed: "Our intention is not to create cloned humans but to make lifesaving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease."

Pro-life President George W Bush was last night expected to make a statement criticising advanced cell technology.

Its scientists cloned the human embryo using a method similar to that first used by British scientists to create Dolly the sheep in 1997.

The US team removed DNA from a human egg and replaced it with DNA from a donor human cell - a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. They said the egg then started to grow as if it had been fertilised by a sperm.

The "stem cells" produced could be used to form any cell or organ in the human body.

Transplant patients could "grow their own" rather than wait for donors they may reject.

And age-related diseases could also be halted by creating healthy young cells from sufferers' DNA. Scientists around the world are racing to develop the best method of extracting stem cells.

But campaigners, who fear the technology would be used to create designer babies, want the research stopped.

President Bush banned the use of public money to develop human cloning within weeks of entering the White House. However, ACT is outside the law as it is a private company.

A similar loophole was exposed in Britain last week when Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori successfully challenged a ban on his research in human cloning .

A High Court judge ruled 1990 legislation did not cover the somatic cell nuclear transfer developed seven years later with the creation of Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh.

Dolly creator Dr Ian Wilmut said the new US report was a "very preliminary observation". He said: "It only got six cells at a time it should have had 60.

"It's almost impossible to know how far off they could be from creating usable stem cells but there's nothing to suggest the technique could work immediately."

Real progress, he said, would be keeping the clone embryo alive in a culture for seven days until it had 60 cells.

Jose Cibelli made the US breakthrough after five years of work at 3. …