Blind World

Ethical row as cloning is given the green light.

August 12, 2004.


SCIENTISTS were given the go-ahead yesterday to clone human embryos in the hope of curing debilitating conditions such as Alzheimerís, Parkinsonís and diabetes.

A licence allowing therapeutic cloning - the first of its kind issued in Europe - was granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to a team of geneticists from the University of Newcastle.

The decision could lead to a host of other institutions using the ruling as a green light to ask the HFEA for permission to carry out similar work.

But the move triggered an avalanche of protest from pro-life and ethics groups which fear the technology will lead to the full cloning of human beings.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, the national chairman of the group Life, said: "Therapeutic cloning involves the manufacture of a new kind of human being, one generated without parentage in the normal sense, with the express purpose of destroying that life once stem cells have been stripped off it.

"It is the manipulation, exploitation and trivialisation of human life of a most frightening kind."

And Josephine Quintavalle, from the pro-life group Core (Comment on Reproductive Ethics), said: "We have decisions of this magnitude being taken by an unelected government quango.

"The pro-life position on the human embryo is that, no matter how you created it, it is a human embryo, it is a member of the human species, and therefore it has as much right to life as anybody else."

But Dr Ian Wilmut, the scientist responsible for cloning Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, was among many in the scientific community who welcomed the decision.

"I am delighted with this news. I believe that cells derived from cloned embryos will be very important in research, as well as in the treatment of disease," said Dr Wilmut, who remained tight-lipped about Roslinís plans for therapeutic cloning.

"There are many unpleasant human diseases that reflect the loss of cells that are not replaced. These include Parkinsonís, diabetes, spinal-cord injury and some forms of blindness.

"There is no fully effective treatment for many of these diseases, and so the exciting new approach of transferring new cells into patients is very important."

The scientists in Newcastle plan to duplicate early-stage embryos and extract stem cells from them, which can be used for radical new treatments.

Despite the initial technique being the same as would be adopted to clone a full human being, the embryos are destroyed before they are 14 days old and never allowed to develop beyond a cluster of cells the size of a pinhead. Stem cells have the potential to become any type of tissue in the body including bone, muscle, nerves and organs.

Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, from Newcastle Universityís Institute of Human Genetics, said: "We are all set up and ready to go immediately as soon as the paperwork is sorted out. It has taken a year of work, and I am most pleased that the HFEA has recognised the potential of this technology in modern medicine."

Professor Alison Murdoch, another member of the Newcastle team, said

it might take five to ten more years before the work was advanced enough to attempt clinical trials.

The HFEAís chairwoman, Suzi Leather, said: "After careful consideration of all the scientific, ethical, legal and medical aspects of the project, the HFEA licence committee agreed to grant an initial one-year research licence to the Newcastle Centre of Life.

"This is an important area of research and a responsible use of technology."

Professor Richard Gardner, the chairman of the Royal Society working-group on stem cell research and cloning, said: "Therapeutic cloning could be invaluable for tackling many serious diseases."

The Newcastle team will become only the second in the world to carry out human cloning. Earlier this year, claims by scientists in South Korea to have produced the first definitive cloned human embryos were greeted with scepticism.


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