Cloning not threat says fertility expert

The scientific breakthrough which produced Dolly the cloned sheep should not be seen as a threat but an "exciting challenge", according to Britain's top fertility expert.

Professor Lord Robert Winston, head of the fertility unit at Hammersmith Hospital in west London, said the creation of Dolly, grown from cells taken from an adult sheep at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, was "a stunning achievement of British science" and accused the media of sensationalising the implications and ignoring the "huge potential" of the experiment.

He argued in an article in the British Medical Journal that research into cloning by nuclear transfer - in which the genetic information is taken from one cell and put into an emptied egg cell - was of "immense clinical value".

He said that while the current law in Britain possibly needed modification, it was adequate to regulate cloning. A total ban on human nuclear transfer, as has been called for by various politicians and religious groups, would have undesirable consequences, such as preventing the use of in vitro fertilisation and pre-implantation diagnosis in couples who were at risk of having children with serious inherited diseases.

Lord Winston wrote: "The production of Dolly should not be seen as a moral threat, but rather as an exciting challenge. To answer this good science with a knee-jerk political reaction, as did the US President Bill Clinton recently, shows poor judgement. "In a society which is still scientifically illiterate, the onus is on researchers to explain the potential good that can be gained in the laboratory."

Cloning research could lead to techniques for generating different types of tissue for transplantation, such as skin, blood and possibly nerve cells, which could be used for treating injuries, for bone marrow transplants and for treating degenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease, he said.

It might also provide new insights into the ageing process, and offer help to men who were unable to produce sperm. Cloning could also be useful in developing transgenic animals for the supply of human transplant organs - an idea which PPL, the company that helped to develop Dolly, said earlier this week it will pursue - and for preserving endangered species.

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