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First Cloned Baby on the Way?

The controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori announced a woman taking part in his cloning program is eight weeks pregnant, according to a report.


"It's difficult to work in this field"

The world medical community is up in arms over a report that a woman taking part in a cloning experment is eight weeks pregnant.

The woman, whose identity was not released, is one of an estimated 5,000 couples taking part in a human cloning program run by maverick Italian doctor Severino Antinori, according to the United Arab Emirates-based "Gulf News." The paper reported that Antinori made the announcement on a visit to the country last week.

"Our project is at a very advanced stage," the paper reported Antinori telling a conference on genetic engineering and cloning. "One woman among the thousand of infertile couples in the program is eight weeks pregnant."

Neither Antinori, nor his partner, US physician Panos Zavos, would confirm or deny the report. But doctors and cloning experts have already reacted with outrage at the prospect.

"Irresponsible and repugnant"

"I am appalled that these people are attempting to produce cloned humans," Rudolf Jaenisch, a cloning specilaist at Massachusettes Institute of Technology told the trade journal, the "New Scientist." "This is irresponsible and repugnant and ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence from seven mammalian species cloned so far."

The process involves removing some genetic material from the egg cell of a mother and replacing it with DNA from the father. An electrical trigger would start the egg cell dividing, as in a normal pregnacy. The cell would then be injected into the mother’s womb.

The process is frought with risks. Cloning attempts made on different animals up until now have almost always met with failure.

Frought with risks

Ian Wilmut who cloned dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, said there is a roughly 1 percent chance the clones survive the gestation period. Many of the cloned mammals born so far are suffering from health complications and birth defects. Dolly, for example, has arthritis.

Antinori, a professor at the University of Rome, acknowledges the problems but said that "we see different results in different spieces." He claims that 12 percent of human embryo clones will survive. The "father of impossible children" says the benefits of providing childless couples with children outweigh the ethical arguments against the process.

The controversial doctor made international headlines last year when he announced he and Zavos would clone a human by the end of 2001. Many of his colleagues reacted with disgust and outrage at his work. Italy’s health minister tried getting him professionally discredited.

Minister Girolamo Sirchia responded to the reports yersterday by saying that cloning a human being is a "catastrophe for human kind," according to a newspaper interview.

Human cloning is banned in Italy, the United States and nine European countries, including Germany. The European Parliament voted against a cloning ban in the European Union. Doctors from the US, China and South Korea announced last year that they had cloned human embryos for research purposes.

"It is difficult to work in this field," Antinori admitted at the conference. "There is a lot of pressure and investigation against my work."

That pressure might heat up in the coming weeks.

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