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Wednesday, 16 December, 1998, 14:29 GMT
Scientists make human clone claim
The claim brought protesters to the Seoul hospital
An infertility clinic in South Korea claims to have produced a human embryo clone. Researchers at the clinic in Kyunghee University Hospital in Seoul said on Wednesday that the clone had been created using an unfertilised egg and a cell from elsewhere in the body, both donated by a woman in her 30s.

Cloned cell
The initial single cell multiplied to four, claimed the scientists
If true, this would be the first public admission of human cloning.

But Dr Harry Griffin at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, which made Dolly the sheep clone, was sceptical about the Korean announcement and said it contained "strong elements of publicity seeking". He told BBC News Online: "It is inevitable given the public interest that these stories will circulate.

"It is unfortunate as any research should be published in scientific journals so it can be properly assessed." Dr Griffin added that he had not previously heard of the Korean institute.

Researcher Lee Bo-yon said in Seoul that his experiment was, to his knowledge, one of the first to use only human cells in a cloning experiment.

"To our knowledge the Roslin Institute has already succeeded in this experiment, making us the second," Lee said.

"That's entirely nonsense," said Dr Griffin. "Embryo research in the UK is controlled by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

"We have no licences for this research and have never applied for any. If the rest of the report is as accurate as that then we can take it with a large pinch of salt."

Human potential

Dr Lee said the human embryo in the Kyunghee University experiment was last seen dividing into four cells before the operation was aborted.

The Koreans claim to be at the forefront of research
"If implanted into a uterine wall of a carrier, we can assume that a human child would be formed and that it would have the same gene characteristics as that of the donor," said Lee.

However, Dr Griffin believed this speculation was unfounded. "Our experience of working with experimental and farm animals - and that's the only evidence there is - is that success rates are low. There is a substantial chance of a death late in pregnancy or early after birth."

The Korean researchers said their experiment used the same technique as that of Teruhiko Wakayama, at the University of Hawaii, who studied mice.

In July, Wakayama and his supervisor, Ryuzo Yanagimachi, said they had produced 50 mice clones from several different adults. The so-called Honolulu Technique is different from the technology used to create Dolly in 1996.

There are different techniques for cloning
Dolly was born after DNA from a sheep's mammary gland cell was placed in an egg from another sheep that had the nucleus removed. The two were fused with an electric current. The Hawaiian researchers used a chemical treatment to "trick" the egg into acting like a newly fertilised egg and to start growing.

In November, American Cell Technologies in Massachusetts claimed to have cloned human cells by fusing their contents with the empty egg cells taken from a cow. Like the Korean experiment, this research has yet to be published.

Moral consensus

Dr Lee said the Korean research team would not attempt to take the cloning experiment further until there was a social, legal and moral consensus to support it.

An official in the Korean science ministry's research and development department said the ministry was waiting for the National Assembly to pass legislation on human cloning.

Following the announcement, about two dozen protesters held a rally in front of Kyunghee Hospital, shouting for discontinuation of the "inhuman research". One protest sign read: "Who am I? I don't want to be a cloned human being."

The UK author on medical ethics and anti-cloning campaigner Dr Patrick Dixon said the Korean announcement showed there was now a requirement for a worldwide ban on further research in this field.

"We urgently need a biotech summit similar to the one which resulted in the ban of CFCs and the protection of the ozone layer," he said. "This is another issue regarding the welfare of the human race and we need global agreement, signed by maybe 170 nations, saying that we want a complete ban on the birth of human clones and a temporary moratorium on further human cloning research, pending debate about the real medical benefits."

The Korean experiment would fall within the research guidelines recently recommended to the UK government.

Dr Patrick Dixon
There is a race to clone a human being
The BBC's Sue Nelson
reports on the latest claims
BBC Seoul Correspondent Andrew Wood
The news provoked demonstrations
HFEA member and embryologist Dr Anne McLaren
We need more information to judge what has happened
See also:

06 Jul 98 | Sci/Tech
Cloning - the new way
26 Aug 98 | Sci/Tech
The race to clone the first human
07 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Scientist says he will clone himself
09 Nov 98 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning moves closer to home
14 Nov 98 | Sci/Tech
Company 'cloned human cells'
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