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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Profile: Dr Severino Antinori
Italian embryologist Dr Severino Antinori and his American partner Dr Panos Zavos
Antinori (left) and his American partner Dr Panos Zavos
Italian embryologist Dr Severino Antinori is at the centre of the heated debate on human cloning.

Three years ago, Dr Antinori announced plans to use cloning technology to help infertile couples have children. The technology had been pioneered by British scientists to produce Dolly the sheep, the world's first vertebrate clone made from an adult mammalian cell.

Earlier this year, Dr Antinori predicted that he would complete the first human cloning operation within 18 months.

Italian embryologist Dr Severino Antinori
Antinori justifies his work as an attempt to help infertile couples
The 55-year-old Dr Antinori was previously best known for his work in in vitro fertilisation, and in particular for enabling women in their 50s and 60s to give birth.

He shot to prominence in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old woman to have a baby by implanting a donor's fertilised egg in her uterus, making her the oldest known women in the world to give birth.

Infertility treatment

Dr Antinori, who runs a fertility clinic in Rome, plans to make his method of human cloning available to couples who cannot have children by any other means - for example, when test tube fertilisation is impossible because the man produces no sperm.

Cloning will help us put an end to so many diseases, give infertile men the chance to have children. We can't miss this opportunity

Dr Severino Antinori
Genetic material from the father would be injected into an egg, which would then be implanted into the woman's womb to grow.

The resulting child would, in theory, have exactly the same physical characteristics as the father.

Dr Antinori told an Italian newspaper recently that more than 1,500 couples had volunteered as candidates for his research programme, and that he planned to start producing embryo clones in November.

He is working in close co-operation with Dr Panos Zavos, an American fertility expert.

Strong opposition

Dr Antinori faces scepticism from the scientific community that he can successfully clone a human being.

Some scientists argue that the process is not safe and that subjects would risk hidden health defects which would emerge only later in life.

He also faces the outrage of those who oppose the procedure on ethical and moral grounds. The practice of human cloning is banned in Europe and formal legislation is now going through Congress in the United States.

Dr Antinori has proposed carrying out the procedure in an unnamed Mediterranean country, or on a boat in international waters.

In 1998, Dr Antinori told the BBC it would be immoral to try to clone humans just for the sake of it, but he justified his work as an attempt to help infertile couples.

"Generally, people are against human cloning, and I blame the media for pre-judging it. I want to bring society with me, and persuade people that it is right in rare cases to help infertile couples," he said.

See also:

07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloning doctors make their case
01 Aug 01 | Americas
US heads for human cloning ban
19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: Why ban human cloning?
09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Doctors defiant on cloning
09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning: The 'terrible odds'
30 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloned human planned 'by 2003'
29 Aug 00 | Europe
Pope condemns human cloning
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