Human Cloning Attempt To Be Outlined Tuesday

August 6, 2001; 10:31 PM EDT; Washington, D.C. ( CNN) - Discounting fears of critics who argue the technology is not ready, a team of reproductive specialists is expected to announce plans Tuesday to clone up to 200 human beings. Dr. Panos Zavos, an andrologist and former University of Kentucky researcher, said Monday he plans to "begin transferring DNA from the nuclei of living cells into human eggs in November to create a human embryo, which would be implanted into a woman's uterus." "We do intend to do this, and we do intend to do it right," Zavos told CNN. Although critics have warned that attempts to clone animals have resulted in a high rate of ill or deformed clones, Zavos said, "We intend to do it right or not do it at all." "The announcement will be made at a Cloning Conference held by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C." he said. Zavos is a retired Professor and head of a Lexington-based private corporation that markets infertility products and technologies. He said his team is working with 200 couples who are infertile and the aim of the "attempt" is to help them have a baby. Zavos said the couples participating in the experiment are from "all over," including the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan.

Zavos said Dr. Severino Antinori, the Italian doctor who helped a 62-year-old woman become pregnant in 1994, would also be involved in the project. Antinori is director of Rome's International Associated Research Institute. Zavos and Antinori hope to begin their cloning program using 200 infertile couples. But since the House of Representatives has voted to ban all human cloning and the Senate likely [ Editor's Note: Opinion varies widely on this point.] to follow suit, Zavos said "the attempt would be made outside the United States in one of two countries that have not moved against human cloning research." He did not disclose where the attempt would be made. "The United States is a great country, but this is not the place to be at this time," he said.

No human has been cloned yet. The most successful attempts at cloning have been with sheep, cattle, and mice. But cloning sheep has so far been an inexact science, and fertility experts warn that human cloning presents a high risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or producing a disabled child.

Zavos: Cloning 'Part of Human Evolution'

"Of the animals cloned so far, some had shown abnormal growth rates, others have had abnormalities, and some have unexpectedly died," University of Pennsylvania Bioethicist Arthur Caplan said. Caplan called Zavos' proposal "barbaric human experimentation." "The way this science is now, it's not working well in animals," he said. "You don't want to do it in people."

But Zavos said his team believes they have the science to successfully clone an embryo and implant it in each woman in the project. "This is part of human evolution," Zavos said. "We feel that if we educate the people that we are real people attempting to assist childless couples in having a child, everybody understands this and everybody needs this."

Although Zavos and Antinori have not disclosed what methods they will use, it is believed the technique they will try is similar to the technique that produced Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep. The technique would involve taking DNA from a cell and implanting it into an egg that would then be placed in the mother's uterus. The resulting child would be a carbon copy of the person from whom the DNA was extracted.

Dr. Ian Wilmut, who created Dolly, said it took 277 tries to get it right in a sheep. Wilmut does not support human cloning

U.S., European Authorities Oppose Plans

The prospect of human cloning faces opposition not only from researchers and scientists, but from U.S. political leaders. On July 31st, the House voted to ban all human cloning on a [265 - 162] vote. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has indicated he "opposes human cloning as well."

President Bush, who is considering whether to allow the use of Federal funds for stem-cell research, also has come out against human cloning. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he was not aware of the specific procedure that Zavos is expected to announce. "If the purpose is cloning a human being, the President is opposed to any efforts to do that," he said.

And Italian medical authorities have warned that Antinori risks losing his right-to-practice medicine in Italy if he presses ahead with his human cloning experiments. Italy's medical code stipulates that medical experimentation is allowed only for the prevention and correction of medical problems. The Italian Medical Association has already launched disciplinary action against Antinori for his stated plans, which would also violate a Council of Europe Convention prohibiting human cloning that came into force in March 2001.

Another organization, known as Clonaid, has moved its research into human cloning abroad. [ Editor's Note: Their US Laboratory was raided by FDA officers a few weeks ago to verify compliance with government regulations. No human-cloning activities were identified on these premises, only animal cloning, which is perfectly legal. However, the point is moot, since we have just learned that this lab has now been closed.] Clonaid was founded by members of a religious cult called the Raelian Movement, which believes that extraterrestrial scientists created life on Earth, and that cloning is a way of achieving eternal life. It has been the subject of a Food and Drug Administration probe after its Research Director, Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, told a Congressional hearing that the company wanted to clone a human inside the United States.