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Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 17:54 GMT
Human embryo clone created
Clone, e-biomed
The 'first human embryo clone' is reported in e-biomed
A United States company says it has created a human embryo clone.

Our intention is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to make life-saving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions

Robert Lanza, ACT
Although this is not the first time such a claim has been made, it is the first time a research group with an established track record in the use of cloning and other novel cell technologies has come forward with this sort of announcement.

The company involved, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), has even published details of its work in an electronic journal.

ACT is stressing that its aim is to use the technology as a source of stem cells - not to create a human being.

"Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not individuals. They're only cellular life. They're not human life," said Michael West, ACT chief executive officer.

Degenerative diseases

ACT, based in Worcester Massachusetts, says the cloning technology will be used to grow a tiny ball of cells which can be used to produce stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are the "master cells" that have the potential to develop into virtually every other type of cell in the body.

These, it is hoped, could be used to treat a range of degenerative diseases ranging from leukaemia to diabetes.

US Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayers' money for the cloning of human beings, but ACT, as a privately funded organisation, is not affected by the ban.

Political reaction

"This is indeed a milestone in therapeutic cloning," Mary Ann Liebert, publisher of the online journal e-biomed, which carried the report, said in a statement.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at ACT and an author on the paper, said the results were very exciting.

"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."

But, while many scientists welcomed the announcement, politicians in the US have warned that they plan to outlaw all human cloning.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he did not yet quite understand what ACT had done. "But it's disconcerting, frankly. I think it's going in the wrong direction."

Hybrid embryo

Republican Senator Richard Shelby told NBC's Meet The Press: "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."

In December 1998, researchers at Kyunghee University in South Korea claimed to have produced the world's first human embryo clone. The scientists involved said they destroyed the object soon after seeing it divide several times.

Many researchers around the world doubted the experiment ever took place.

ACT itself claimed in the November of that year that it had fused the genetic material from a human cell with the empty egg from a cow to make a hybrid embryo.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Cells will be used for research"
Michael West, Advanced Cell Technology
"We think the future can be quite bright"
Dr David King of Human Genetics Alert
"They have done the work for those who do want to clone humans"
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