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Experts Rip Cloning 'Story'
By Kristen Philipkoski
12:00 p.m. Nov. 26, 2001 PST http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,48629,00.html
Scientists say they've cloned the first human embryo, but critics are calling the announcement a shameless cry for
funding.Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, announced on Sunday that they have cloned
the first human embryo -- an issue that has been hotly debated this year among bioethicists and in Congress.
Critics say the company is releasing the story not because they've performed groundbreaking science, but to spin a story
that might get them additional funding.
"I think they're mainly trying to bring attention to the company and break down certain barriers so (embryonic cloning)
can occur in the future with less public attention and outrage," said Stuart Newman, a member of the Council for
The company did not return phone calls.
The research was published in the Journal of Regenerative Medicine. Despite the positive pitch of the company's press
release, several researchers have called the work a failure.
Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, dismissed Advanced Cell's research as
"irrelevant," in The Independent newspaper of London.
"Frankly, the fact that the company is announcing this now suggests it needs the publicity for refinancing," he was
quoted as saying.
The researchers at Advanced Cell used two techniques similar to the "nuclear transfer" technology Wilmut used to clone
Dolly the sheep.
Nuclear transfer involves taking the nucleus of an adult cell and placing it inside an egg from which the nucleus has
But Advanced Cell's embryo developed into only six cells. Wilmut said that even a nucleus removed from an unfertilized
egg would develop into the six-cell stage without adding the nucleus of an adult cell.
"The fact that it did not develop beyond six cells suggests it is fairly lightweight research," he said.
Glenn McGee, who once sat on the company's ethics board called the announcement "nothing but hype."
He said the company's report lacks any significant details, including what cells company scientists actually grew from
the cloned embryo.
"They are doing science by press release," he said.
The researchers at Advanced Cell say they do not intend to create a new human being through cloning, but to perform
"therapeutic cloning." Therapeutic cloning starts with controversial stem cells. Researchers believe they could one day
replace dead cells, such as neurons or spinal cord cells, to heal people who are injured or suffer from certain
The most flexible type of stem cells are taken from embryos, which are destroyed in the process, a fact that has ignited
heated ethical debate among legislators and scientists, some who believe an embryo is a human life.
Researchers say embryonic cloning would eliminate the biological rejection that could occur by transplanting stem cells
into patients from a mismatched donor.
Today the research is legal in the United States, but that could change.
The House voted in August to make it a federal crime to clone human embryos for scientific research. The legislation is
expected to go to the Senate in March.
The legislation, written by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Florida), would set fines of $1 million or more and up to 10 years in
prison for violators.
Several states have banned reproductive cloning.
Great Britain began to rush emergency legislation to ban human cloning through the House of Lords on Monday.
The laws were written to close a legal loophole in Britain after the high court ruled last week that cloning humans was
Advanced Cell's research wouldn't have fallen under the law, but the legislation could hinder the efforts of rogue
researchers like Italian embryologist Severino Antinori, who has claimed he will clone humans for reproduction.
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