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Scientists Skeptical About Claim of Cloning

Health: Controversial Italian fertility specialist refuses to confirm reports of a woman's pregnancy. Some doctors express outrage.

April 07, 2002|From Reuters

LONDON — Scientists reacted with skepticism and shock on Saturday to a report that a woman taking part in a controversial human cloning program for infertile couples was eight weeks pregnant.

Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori, who last year announced his intention to create the world's first human clone, has been quoted as saying one woman in his program is pregnant--but he has since refused to confirm or deny it.

"Our project is at a very advanced stage. One woman among the thousands of infertile couples in the program is eight weeks pregnant," Gulf News, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday reported Antinori as saying.

It said Antinori, who did not give any further details, had been responding to a question at a lecture at the Zayed Center for Follow-up and Coordination, an Abu Dhabi think tank.

It was unclear if Antinori had clearly stated that the woman's pregnancy was a result of cloning.

Contacted by telephone Saturday, Antinori said, "I am not talking to journalists," before hanging up.

There was no information as to where the woman was, or from whom the alleged fetus was cloned, if it was.

Cloning and fertility experts expressed strong doubts about the report.

Dr. Ehab Kelada, clinical director at the London Fertility Center, said Antinori must clarify the report immediately.

"The scientific community will be very alarmed," he said.

"If this report is true, it is shocking. We don't know how safe cloning is for humans, and it is dangerous to embark on this path without proper regulations or guidelines," he said.

Rudolf Jaenisch, professor of biology and a leading cloning scientist based at the Whitehead Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he was extremely angry at the news but very skeptical.

He said the scientific community would have no way of verifying whether the baby, if it existed, was a clone.

"I do not trust these people to tell us the truth," he said.

"It is totally outrageous and irresponsible to attempt cloning of humans when we know there is a very high probability of severe abnormalities, even if the baby survived to birth, which is extremely doubtful. In fact, death before birth would be the best outcome."

Antinori has been working with Panos Zavos, a former professor at the University of Kentucky in the United States, to clone fetuses for infertile couples.

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