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Experts Doubt Live, Normal Clone Possible

But Italian Doctor Claims One Will Be Born in January
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 27, 2002 -- Human cloning doesn't stray far from the news. Fertility specialists and medical ethicists say the latest headlines only represent "public posturing" by Italian doctor Severino Antinori.

Yesterday, Antinori -- a fertility specialist in Rome -- announced that he had cloned a healthy human embryo that will be born in January. Antinori would not say where the birth would take place or disclose any other information.

In simple terms, clones are created by removing the nucleus, which contains the cell's genetic material, from an adult cell and transferring that nucleus into a human egg, which has had its nucleus removed. That egg is then stimulated to divide and grow into an embryo, which can then be implanted in the womb.

Antinori gained worldwide attention by using in vitro fertilization to impregnate several women who were a decade or more past menopause, including one woman in her 60s who delivered a healthy baby.

"I'm very skeptical about this announcement," says Richard Grazi, director of the Genesis Fertility and Reproductive Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

"Antinori is very much into publicly posturing as an avant garde reproductive specialist," he tells WebMD. "When Scottish scientists cloned the lamb they named Dolly, they did genetic testing after the lamb was born -- to make sure it was a clone before they made their announcement to the world. Why in heavens would Antinori make this announcement that the birth was going to happen? If you were a rigorous scientist, you would wait."

If the birth does occur, "it probably won't be a healthy baby," says Grazi. In animal studies, "most of these fetuses die in utero, even if they even get to the fetal stage. Most of the cloned embryos don't even implant."

"Even if a woman was pregnant [with a cloned fetus], it's likely that there would be a spontaneous abortion or that the baby would be born dead," says George J. Annas, JD, MPH, health law professor at Boston University School of Public Health. "That's much more likely than a live birth."

But the ethics of cloning are uppermost on the minds of many.

Both the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the National Academy of Science have come out against reproductive cloning.

Grazi does not oppose human cloning, he says. "The concept of cloning for treatment of infertility -- to allow a person who has no sperm to father a child or to allow a woman with no eggs to become pregnant with a biological child -- would be a good thing. I applaud development of real science for that to cure otherwise hopelessly sterile individuals."

However, more animal studies must be done before cloning is attempted with humans, Grazi tells WebMD. "I don't believe in experimenting on people. I also don't believe in preying on people's desperation. I'm a fertility specialist. I work with people in this situation every day. I know how desperate they feel to have child, and some are hopelessly sterile."

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