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Dr. Robert Lanza: Human cloning 'abhorrent'

Dr. Robert Lanza
Dr. Robert Lanza

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Brigitte Boisselier, the scientific director of Clonaid, announced the first cloned baby has been born.
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(CNN) -- A group founded by a fringe religious group announced Friday the birth of the first cloned human, a baby girl named Eve. The group, Clonaid, was founded by the Raelian movement, which believes that humans were created by extraterrestrials.

The announcement was followed by strong reactions, including criticism from Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technologies.

He talked to anchors Sanjay Gupta and Daryn Kagan On Friday's edition of CNN's "American Morning."

LANZA: Of course without any scientific data one has to be very, very skeptical. This is a group that has no scientific track record. They have never published a single scientific paper in this area, they have no research experience in this area. In fact, they have never even cloned a mouse or a rabbit. I have to say that I think this is appalling and scientifically irresponsible. I think that we should not dismiss them outright. I think that we do have the technology at present to clone human embryos and it may be a lot easier than many scientists think.

GUPTA: That is sort of the big point. People talk about actually cloning human embryos but to get a human being all you need to do is to implant those clump of cells into a uterus and allow that to grow. Is it really that big a leap, is it just so preposterous, you think?

LANZA: No, actually this may be a lot easier than it is, for instance, to generate embryonic stem cells. We do know that we published a paper last year where we generated human embryos using this technology that were between four and eight cells... we know that in mice, goats and pigs, for instance, that those very same early-stage embryos that are only anywhere from two to eight cells give rise to term animals.

In fact, the trend in clinics worldwide is to actually implant these early-stage embryos that are only three days old, and that only have in the cluster four to eight cells. So, as immoral and unethical as this may be, there is a real chance that they could have had some success. This is a pure numbers game -- if they have devoted enough resources and they had access to enough eggs, there is a distinct possibility. But again, without any scientific data, one has to be extremely skeptical. I know Michael Guillen (the freelance journalist who will be investigating the veracity of the claim) very well and I will definitely trust the outcome of his data.

GUPTA: You know, we have heard how many attempts it took with Dolly -- 276 before they were actually able to produce a clone -- which had a lot of health problems after it was born. ... We are hearing now that five out of 10 of the implantations appear to be ... successful pregnancies. Talk about those numbers, do they make sense to you?

LANZA: Yes. First of all, the 1-out-of-277 attempts is very deceptive. What that number actually represents is what we call nuclear transfer reconstructions. That means you take a cell and you put it into an empty egg, but of those only a certain percentage are actually implanted.

Those are the ones that actually generate early-stage embryos, and we do find that we are having success after 60 percent of the implantations, at least in the cow models, and it is even higher in some other models.

GUPTA: One of the other things, after the baby is born, and again the scientist Brigitte Boisselier said the baby is "fine" -- we do not really know what that means -- but the whole host of medical problems inflicted upon the animals that were cloned, talk about that with respect to humans. They talked about these animals having disastrous medical problems even within weeks after they were born. Do you anticipate that in humans -- if in fact this is true?

LANZA: Well, we recently published an article where we reviewed all the published data on all the cloned animal species and it actually is rather surprising.

It turns out that only about 25 percent of the animals that were born healthy, or I should say that were born to term, were actually defective. It turns out that 3-out-of-4 of those animals was actually healthy at birth. But I should add to that, that this is at birth and that as these animals age in life, it is going to turn out that we are going to start seeing problems.

For instance, we have started to see a tumor in one of the animals after several years, and another animal has developed grand mal seizures and periodically drops to the ground, so again although a baby may be born healthy there is certainly a very distinct possibility that problems could occur later.

KAGAN: You ... say that you have cloned a human embryo. Why is that OK ... Where do you draw the (ethical) line?

LANZA: Well, the line is that first of all, my main concern here is that if there is a backlash it could cripple a very legitimate area of medical research that could save the lives of millions of people. We feel that human reproductive cloning, the use of this technology to produce human beings is absolutely abhorrent, and is not only unsafe but again is ethically questionable.

So I think that to clone individual cells, microscopic groups of cells to save a life, say a child who may eventually go blind, or have kidney disease or have limbs amputated, if we can create some microscopic cells to alleviate that child from suffering for the rest of his life, I think that that is something that is consistent with the goals of medicine, and I think all the medical community has come out in support of the medical applications of this technology.

I do not think that there is a reputable scientist on this planet who would advocate using this technology to generate a human child as was just announced. I think that what you just heard is what many in the religious right and in the anti-abortion groups have been praying for. This is a nightmare for all of us who are trying to handle this field in a responsible manner.

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