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NEWS

The move to preserve therapeutic cloning


The UN is deadlocked, says GoldIn mid-October 2003, on the eve of the UN convention impasse annual meeting of the American Soci- What worries researchers is the nature stein. The extremists, led by the US, ety for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) of current political efforts to ban would like to ban cloning and all in Texas, the Cypriot-born physician human cloning. On November 6th, an possible precursor technologies. Why Panayiotis Zavos held a press confer- ad hoc Working Group of the United dont they at least do what they agree ence to announce that he had frozen a Nations, convened two years earlier, on ban human reproductive cloned human embryo at the 10-cell decided by only 80 votes to 79 to delay cloning? Those who would go furdiscussion of an agree- ther than the point everybody agrees stage and was preparing ment on an internation- upon block the simplest objective. I to implant it in a woman. al treaty banning human think thats inappropriate politically As with his previous cloning for a further two and ethically. Im ashamed of my claims, Zavos offered no years. The group has government. scientific data to support been split because 40 his work. Nonetheless, nations, led by Costa Mobilizing scientists there is fresh concern Rica, have demanded a Having been part of the debate for five within the research comban on all forms of years, Goldstein is now one of several munity that such outlandish remarks are fuel- Larry Goldstein: time to act cloning, both reproduc- scientists who feel so strongly about tive and therapeutic. The the issue that they have joined a new ing political efforts to ban all forms of cloning, both reproductive latter technique can involve creating lobbying group, the Human Cloning and therapeutic Scientists are now ral- and then destroying human embryos. Policy Institute (HCPI). The HCPI, Supporters of a total ban include which consists of 16 international scilying to stop mavericks like Zavos. Kellie Tamashiro, part of the Univer- several African and South American entists, lawyers, and human rights sity of Cincinnati team that showed countries and, most notably, the Unit- activists, has petitioned UN Secretaryadult cloned mice become obese as a ed States, countries known for their General Kofi Annan to take the matter side effect of the cloning procedure (1), strong religious factions and anti- to the International Court of Justice articulates the issue: We need to be abortion views. Robert Lanza, vice for resolution. aware that people such as Zavos may president of Medical & Scientific The HCPI was formed in the fall of be attempting to clone humans and Development at Advanced Cell Tech- 2003 by Bernie Segal, a Florida-based need to ensure that cloning done by nology, Worcester, Massachusetts, attorney who has sued the Raelian cult other researchers using various animal USA, told the JCI, The Bush Adminis- to demand that they produce the baby models is not prematurely halted as a tration is siding more with religious that they claim to have cloned than scientific views. My feeling as a (through Clonaid, their subsidiary) at result of his claims and activities. Lawrence Goldstein, a Howard Hugh- scientist is that the government the start of the year. I serve as a memes Investigator from UCSD, agrees. should be looking out for the health ber of HCPIs scientific advisory comIts not that theres an increased activ- and well-being of the population, not mittee, Goldstein told the JCI. I was approached by Bernie ity of those trying to clone humans taking sides in religious Segal, who I felt was or that theyre any closer its just debates because clearly doing the right thing, that theres an increased number of there is a diversity of relinamely moving in legal claims. People legitimately feel this is gious viewpoints. and ethical ways to Meanwhile, a group of an inappropriate activity and there oppose an unethical medought to be a ban on human cloning 14 countries that includes ical practice cloning a the United Kingdom, that will also stop the claims. human being, but also Joe Massey, of the Atlanta-based China, and South Africa trying to preserve the abilSoutheastern Fertility Institute, insists that the internaity and legitimate need of believes that a year ago, researchers tional treaty should apply the scientific and medical wouldnt have bothered to enlist sup- to reproductive cloning Bob Lanza: doubts community to pursue the port for a human cloning ban. Yet dur- only. They argue that, Zavos latest claim use of related technology; ing that time, embryonic stem cell given the diversity of opinresearch and nuclear transfer in ani- ion on the morality of therapeutic that is, generating viable pluripotent mals has progressed apace. This pos- cloning and its potential to offer med- stem cells for research and potential sible pathway of scientific inquiry is ical breakthroughs against certain dis- therapy. I felt that hed do a better a being guarded by scientists who would eases, individual countries should be better job with sound scientific advice, so I joined. allowed to regulate it as they see fit. like to pursue it, he told the JCI.
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In October, Australian reproductive sentation in the media and public hysbiologist Alan Trounson, another teria to get in the way of legitimate scimember of the HCPI, publicly likened entific exchange, Tipton told the JCI. the risk of human A question of time cloning to that of the misuse of nuclear armaTipton went on to ments. Given that most explain ASRMs policy existing animal clones with regard to human have health defects such cloning. We would not as obesity and respiratolet people present ry and immune probsomething that said lems, he said, children here are the results of born from the technique Human embryo at the tenhuman cloning. Heres could face death at any cell stage. a baby. But Dr. Zavos point in time, and that work did not present an this was an unreasonable way to live. ethical obstacle. He didnt move anyMassey is also an HPCI member. The thing any closer to whats happening in reason I joined the panel is because I human cloning. Weve taken a clear, know there are people out there who scientific stance against that because would try to clone their loved ones or the science hasnt progressed to a point themselves if they thought they had a where you can make an attempt at it shot at it. They will continue to be tan- safely. We havent addressed the ultitalized by the promises of the fringe ele- mate ethical question of should it ever ments who take advantage of the press happen. Were still examining that and to promote awareness of their activities. our membership is torn on it. There are Those who are making the claims, and a lot of people who recognize that have no science, need to be discredited. much of the debate around human This is a goal of the HCPI, promote sci- cloning is very similar to that which ence, and discourage the hope for surrounded the first in vitro fertilizareproductive cloning. tion. Until the scientific question is Other scientific groups are also clear, we have not felt the need to take mobilizing. In September, more than up the larger ethical question as yet. 60 science academies from around the That point may be a long way off. world, under the auspices of the Inter- First of all, I think its highly unlikely Academy Panel, petitioned the UN to that Zavos would have frozen it at the adopt a ban on reproductive cloning 10-cell unless it had stopped dividing, while urging against making thera- and if had, it wouldnt be viable, says peutic cloning illegal. Lanza, whose company has cloned However, such activity has not around 100 cows. Also, in all probabilsilenced the claims of proponents of ity, 10 cells may not really be 10 cells but human cloning. Zavos is becoming a may be a fractionated embryo, i.e., cells familiar figure at reproductive biology have broken into smaller units. The meetings around the world. At the human genome doesnt really kick in ASRM meeting, he presented data on until the compacting morula stage, nuclear transfer in cow embryos as a which is at least a 16-cell. And when it model for his human work. Perhaps, starts to compact there are certain genes then, it is incumbent on societies to that are turned on so that you would be take a stance and not give rogue scien- able to visibly ensure that a clone has tists a platform. ASRM spokesperson taken over and that its viable. Sean Tipton disagrees. The scientific Moreover, credible cloning researchers community shouldnt allow misrepre- are currently debating whether primate

embryos can ever undergo successful nuclear transfer, since meiotic spindle removal from recipient oocytes, which occurs during enucleation, appears to prevent embryo reconstitution (2). Although others believe its simply a numbers game, Mark Westhusin, a member of the Texas A & M University team that cloned the first cat, told the JCI, The nuclear transfer procedure is not the obstacle. The biggest issue is logistics. Its very inefficient in any species, so where are you going to get 100 eggs on any given day that are competent and can reprogram a nucleus, and where are you going to get enough surrogate mothers, let alone a research team willing to be a part of this? Thus, despite the UNs wranglings, it still seems that time is on their side

Cloned cows, sheep, and cats. Are humans next?

in their attempt to introduce an international cloning law that will please the majority. But Joe Masseys words should serve as a strong incentive to act sooner rather than later: If 100 scientists learned to clone human cells, only one would be needed to blow the lid off the science and take it to reproduction.
1. Tamashiro, K.L., et al. 2002. Cloned mice have an obese phenotype not transmitted to their offspring. Nature Med. 8:262267. 2. Simerly, C., et al. 2003. Molecular correlates of primate nuclear transfer failures. Science. 300:297.

Karen Birmingham, London, United Kingdom

The Journal of Clinical Investigation

December 2003

Volume 112

Number 11

1601