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Team plans to clone up to 200 humans

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CNN) -- A team of reproductive specialists is expected to announce plans Tuesday to clone up to 200 human beings.

The announcement will be made at a cloning conference held by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, Panos Zavos told CNN Monday. 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.

"We will reveal on Tuesday exactly how we are going to go about it," he said.

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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.

No human has been cloned yet. The most successful attempts at cloning have been with sheep, cattle and mice.

Cloning presents risks

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.

"This procedure is just not safe," said University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan. Of the animals cloned so far, some had shown abnormal growth rates, others have had abnormalities, and some have unexpectedly died, he said.

"Dr. Zavos and his group have been kind of the high-flying, showbiz operators of cloning. They keep saying they're going to do this. I have to say, if you looked at the animal work that's been done, and the people who really know this procedure of cloning -- that is, veterinarians who try it in animals -- the procedure is just not safe," he said.

"I'm really worried that what they're going to do here is make a dead or deformed baby, not a healthy one."

While 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.

Carbon copy

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.

Zavos said his team believes they have the science to successfully clone an embryo and implant it in each woman in the project.

Though cloning a human being is not yet against the law in the United States, Zavos has said the group does not plan to do its work in the United States. He has not said where the experiments will take place.

Bill would ban human cloning

On August 1, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban all human cloning.

The ban, backed by the Bush administration, passed on a 265-162 vote. A competing measure -- which would have banned cloning for reproductive purposes, but allowed it for scientific research -- failed Tuesday afternoon on a 249-178 vote.

Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., who sponsored the absolute ban, said his approach is the only way to go. His bill would set penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for those convicted of human cloning. The cloning bill has now gone to the Senate.

President Bush, who is considering whether to allow the use of federal funds for stem cell research, 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.

• Andrology Institute of America
• National Academy of Sciences

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