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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 18:58 GMT
'Human clone' unlikely say experts
Graphic, BBC
Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples
The controversial Italian doctor Severino Antinori has announced that the first human baby clone will be born in January 2003.

Speaking at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday, the researcher said three women he has treated are now carrying foetus clones in the advanced stages of pregnancy.

He refused to give any detailed information about the identities of the women involved.

Dr Antinori's latest statements appear to contradict some of his previous claims and cloning experts say his work should be treated with extreme scepticism until he submits his research for independent scrutiny.

Later on Wednesday, a company in the US claimed it too had women that were pregnant with baby clones - one of which would be presented to the world before the end of the year.

Earlier clones

When Dr Antinori made similar claims about his work in April, he said that one woman he was treating was eight weeks pregnant with a clone.

If this pregnancy had gone to full term, then the woman should have given birth by now.

But at his news conference in Rome on Tuesday, the doctor made no reference to this pregnancy and claimed merely that another three women were carrying clones in the latter stages of pregnancy.

Dr Severino Antinori
Dr Antinori has not submitted his research for independent scrutiny
Opponents of human cloning see Dr Antinori's work as ethically irresponsible, warning that even if the process succeeds it may produce babies with severe defects.

Professor John Burns, from Newcastle University, UK, said: "There's a very good reason to think, and some evidence to support it, that if you produce babies by this type of technique, then those babies will have abnormalities."

Many countries have now introduced legislation to outlaw the practice.

Most scientists doubt, though, whether Dr Antinori really has the expertise to bring a baby clone into the world.

This position is held by the man who led the team that created Dolly the sheep in 1996.

Professor Ian Wilmut told the BBC that Dr Antinori had always refused to subject his work to peer review - so no one had any real idea of what he had achieved.

Dr Harry Griffin, the deputy director of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly was born, said: "There are many losses before implantation, during pregnancy, and many cloned animals die within a few hours or days of birth.

"So it's a very risky procedure; and there's no reason to suppose it's going to be any easier in humans than it is in those species which have been cloned so far."

Not in charge

At the Rome press conference, Dr Antinori gave just the briefest of details about one of the pregnancies.

He told journalists that the embryo appeared to be developing normally, and the woman was expected to give birth at the beginning of January.

"It's going well. There are no problems," Dr Antinori said, adding that ultra-sound scans showed the foetus currently weighed 2.5-2.7 kilograms (5.5-5.9 pounds) and was "absolutely healthy".

Human embryo, AP
The human embryo grows rapidly after conception
The doctor refused to reveal the location or nationality of the woman, saying he had a duty to protect her privacy.

He denied that he had been in charge of the project to impregnate the women - he had only made a "scientific and cultural contribution", he claimed.

The other two women carrying foetus clones were in the 28th and the 27th weeks of their pregnancies, the doctor said.

Other clones

Other groups are reported to be attempting human reproductive cloning.

On Wednesday, an organisation called Clonaid claimed it had five women pregnant with baby clones. It said a baby girl would be born in December.

Brigitte Boissellier, Clonaid's managing director, told BBC News Online: "I am very pleased with our results. From what we can check, the babies are healthy. Now we are working on 20 more cases."

She said the company would eventually allow independent scientists to check a baby's cells to verify the child was a true clone.

"This evidence will be the proof that we have done it."

Clonaid's parent body is a religious movement known as the Raelians, which believes that humans are the result of a genetic engineering project run by super intelligent extra-terrestrials.

The BBC's Matt Prodger reports
"[Dr Antinori] refuses to submit his work to independent scrutiny"
Suzi Leather, Human fertility Authority
"A profoundly distasteful and morally unacceptable experiment"
Human reproductive cloning


See also:

25 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
09 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
09 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
15 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
06 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
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