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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 02:16 GMT
Human life - but not as we know it
Stem cells, BBC
Stem cells have the potential to treat diseases
A man left paralysed after a cycling accident is hoping pioneering methods of human cloning will give him a new lease on life without disability.

Texan doctor Judson Somerville has volunteered to give cells from his body to scientists aiming to cure him through the creation of human embryo clones.

Egg being injected with skin cell by Josť Cibelli, BBC
Scientific first: An egg injected with the genetic material from a skin cell
His story features in the first of four programmes, beginning on Sunday, on life and human experimentation, aptly entitled How To Build A Human.

The BBC Two landmark series looks at the ground-breaking steps being taken in human development, from recreating life to ways of altering the ageing process.

The series covers four areas of advancement in human technology: creation, genetic predictions, gender alteration and the ageing process.

Cutting-edge images give a futuristic and very visual portrayal of the latest discoveries in science.

Global notoriety

And it offers a scientific and television first with footage of scientist Josť Cibelli, head of research at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), actually producing the "world's first" human embryo clone.

Dr Cibelli achieved global notoriety when he and his team released information about their human cloning experiments conducted in October last year.

I'm willing to take the risk to potentially help myself and to help other people

Judson Somerville
His quiet, studied persona is portrayed against the background of the phenomenal leaps he wants to take in human creation technology.

"If we can fulfil this dream, we can change the lives of so many people," he says, of his controversial work.

The programme mixes futuristic technology with the everyday life stories of those who find themselves in the medical spotlight.

Guinea pig

Mr Somerville, a father-of-two who was a sporting fanatic before his accident in 1990, is Dr Cibelli's "guinea pig".

The programme, in a suspense-filled, fly-on-the-wall style, follows Dr Cibelli as he goes about the business of trying to make an embryo clone of Mr Somerville.

Judson Somerville, BBC
Judson Somerville: Hoping to walk again
His aim is to be able to use cells from the embryo clone - the vital stem cells - to eventually repair Mr Somerville's broken spine.

To make the series, the programme makers were given exclusive access to Josť Cibelli and Mr Somerville, who proved a willing patient.

"I come from a long line of pioneers, risk takers. There's no new frontier for me, they're not going to send me to Mars anytime soon and I'm willing to take the risk to potentially help myself and to help other people," he says.

It also introduces Sara Waddington, a mum-to-be from England, who is due to give birth to triplets.

The natural form of cloning in her body is contrasted with the efforts being made by Dr Cibelli.

Her triplet's conception is also revealed as a unique science - but one controlled by nature.

Viewers are shown with the use of vivid graphics how her fertilised egg split into three identical embryos.

Forever young

The three other programmes in the series promise to be equally enthralling.

The second looks at DNA and examines how our genes go to make up the people we become - both physically and mentally.

Jose Cibelli, BBC
Dr Cibelli: Embryo science is "extremely delicate"
The Secret of Sex puts gender changing under the microscope.

Finally, Forever Young looks at the wish to live forever, or at least longer than our existing lifespan. This programme picks out some of the most bizarre efforts people will go to, to enhance their longevity.

In all, the four programmes set out to explore how the science fiction of today can become the everyday practice of tomorrow.

How To Build A Human starts on BBC Two at 2100GMT on Sunday

See also:

27 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Cloning cattle reverses ageing
14 Sep 01 | Health
Gene 'protects human life'
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