First clone of a human embryo created

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The Independent Online

Scientists have created an embryonic human clone from the cell of an adult in a development that marks a critical step towards the eventual generation of cloned babies, a prospect that the Government hopes to ban in emergency legislation to be introduced this week.

Scientists have created an embryonic human clone from the cell of an adult in a development that marks a critical step towards the eventual generation of cloned babies, a prospect that the Government hopes to ban in emergency legislation to be introduced this week.

An American biotechnology company announced yesterday that it has produced an early human embryo by transplanting the nucleus of an adult cell into an unfertilised human egg with its own nucleus removed ­ the same technique used to create Dolly the sheep.

The egg cell divided several times, in what appears to be normal embryonic development, to produce a six-cell cloned embryo. However, the company, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), did not manage to get the ball of cells to divide further.

Other scientists have claimed in the past to have achieved the same success. However, their experiments were not published in a scientific journal, so they lacked credibility. ACT scientists published their research in the Journal of Regenerative Medicine.

Michael West, the chief executive of ACT, which is based at Worcester, Massachusetts, said the aim of the research was not to create a cloned baby but to produce embryonic stem cells that would be capable of mending broken tissues or organs in what is termed "therapeutic" cloning.

The company emphasised that it was not engaged in an attempt at so-called reproductive cloning, which was supposed to have been outlawed in Britain until a High Court judge ruled earlier this month that current legislation did not cover it.

Dr West said: "Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not individuals. They are only cellular life.

"Human therapeutic cloning could be used for a host of age-related diseases.If the human cells behave as animal cells have in previous studies, we may have found a means of rebuilding the lifespan of cells at the same time."

But Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, who led the team that worked on Dolly the sheep, criticised the ACT study as "lightweight". He said the research was still preliminary, although he accepted that ACT has gone further than others have by publishing the research.

Dr West insisted that the firm had no plans to clone a human being: "We could implant these cells into a woman's uterus and make a cloned human being, but that's not what we are doing. We are doing it to help cure diseases.

"There is potential benefit for human lives. People with Parkinson's or diabetes could be cured using this technology. We felt it was so much more urgent to go and help these people who are sick, than the concern about cloning humans."

Robert Lanza, the vice-president of medical and scientific development at ACT, and an author of the paper, said: "This would allow us to supply young cells of any kind, identical to the patient, that could be used to address the tidal wave of age-related diseases that will accompany the ageing of the population.

"Our intention is not to create cloned human beings, but to make life-saving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, Aids, and neurodegenerative disorders."

But Dr Patrick Dixon, an authority on the ethics of human cloning, warned the breakthrough could open the door to producing human clones.

"It is now only a matter of time before a clone human is born," he said yesterday. "There are huge potential risks in that process." Dr Dixon called for global legislation to prevent clone embryos being legally produced for research in one part of the world, then implanted into women in a country where it was not banned.

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