Cloned Dolly Has Arthritis

January 4, 2002; 9:29 AM EST London, UK ( CNN) - Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep, has arthritis, one of her creators has said. It is not clear whether Dolly, who is five-and-a-half-years-old, is suffering from the condition as a result of the cloning process itself. But the news of Dolly's condition has angered both pro-life groups concerned at the future of human cloning as well as animal-welfare organizations.

Dolly made headlines worldwide in 1996 when she became the first mammal to be cloned with DNA taken from an adult cell from a ewe's udder by a team led by Prof. Ian Wilmut.

Dr. Wilmut, of the Edinburgh-based Roslin Institute which created Dolly, said, "She has arthritis in her left hind leg at the hip and the knee. We can't tell how it will develop but she is responding well to treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs." Dolly was being "closely monitored" by veterinary staff at the center, Dr. Wilmut said. The scientist added: "There is no way of knowing if this is due to cloning or whether it is a coincidence. We may never know the answer to that question. We are very disappointed, and we will have to keep a careful eye on her. In every other way she is perfectly healthy and she has given birth to six healthy lambs." Arthritis in sheep might be caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses. Asked if the condition was common in sheep, Dr. Wilmut said, "It does happen."

In May 1999, research suggested Dolly might be susceptible to premature aging. The possibility that the world's most famous sheep might die early was raised after a study of her genetics. A team from PPL Therapeutics examined structures at the tips of Dolly's chromosomes called telomeres. The team reported in the journal Nature that the structures were slightly "shorter" than would be expected in a sheep of her age which was born normally.

Nick Harris, Senior Researcher for Life, said, "We already knew that she is aging prematurely, so we are not surprised to hear of more defects. This information has a large bearing on those irresponsible scientists who wish to clone humans. We must put a stop to all cloning programs involving human tissue." Under UK law therapeutic cloning -- the duplication of human embryos for research aimed at developing new stem-cell treatments -- is allowed, but reproductive cloning - the cloning of babies -- is prohibited.

Dan Lyons, of the animal protection group CAGE, told The Associated Press, "You can't just interfere with one aspect of an animal's system and expect the rest of the system to continue to function perfectly."

News of Dolly's condition emerged just days after scientists announced they had produced five pig clones which had been genetically modified to help prevent their organs being rejected if they were transplanted into a human. The pigs -- Noel, Angel, Star, Joy, and Mary -- were said to mark a milestone in the development of animal to human transplants. The animals, were produced by the U.S. subsidiary of the Edinburgh-based biotech company PPL Therapeutics. PPL's stocks plunged almost 16 percent to 64 pence amid investor concerns Dolly arthritis may be connected to the cloning science. The company's stock soared more than 50 percent on Wednesday after the PPL said it cloned pigs whose organs may be compatible with humans.