Human Embryo Cloned for First Time

Article excerpt

Byline: Joyce Howard Price

A Massachusetts biotech firm announced yesterday it has successfully cloned the first human embryo.

Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology Inc. (ACT) in Worcester said the purpose of their research is not to develop a human being, but to create a source of stem cells to treat a variety of major diseases.

Embryonic stem cells are a kind of master cell that can grow into any kind of cell in the body.

"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," Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at ACT, said in a statement.

The goal is to take a piece of skin and grow some brain tissue for an Alzheimer's patient suffering memory loss, or create pancreatic cells for a diabetic whose pancreas is not producing insulin to metabolize sugars.

"We've taken the first step toward what we hope will be a whole new era of medicine. It's been called regenerative medicine. The idea is to be able . . . to give replacement cells and tissues, like the way we repair a car when it's broken," Michael West, a biologist and president of ACT, said on CNN's "Late Edition."

However, ACT's research - published yesterday by the Journal of Regenerative Medicine and described online in Scientific American and U.S. News & World Report - sparked charges of "murder" by pro-lifers and drew sharp criticism from the White House and some in Congress, who also question its morality.

The president has "made it clear 100 percent that he is opposed to any type of human cloning," said White House spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise.

"This corporation is creating human embryos for the sole purpose of killing them and harvesting their cells. Unless Congress acts quickly, this corporation and others will be opening human embryo farms," Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement.

The Vatican yesterday expressed caution and some reservation over ACT's announcement. "More scientific verification is still necessary" to determine if this "can be defined as real human cloning," Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Ansa news agency.

However, he went on to say that if a "real human embryo" were "created and then destroyed" to obtain stem cells, "then that is true human cloning and . . . must be condemned."

In August, the House voted 265-165 in favor of a bill that would outlaw all human cloning, including human embryos. The Senate is scheduled to vote on such a legislation in February or March. But Mr. Johnson urged quicker action in the wake of ACT's research.

"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," Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said on "Fox News Sunday" that he needs more information. "But it's disconcerting, frankly. I think it's going in the wrong direction," he said when asked about the cloning reports.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in an interview on NBC, said, "I find it very very troubling, and I think most of the Congress would."

But Mr. …