Woman pregnant with first cloned baby, doctor says

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The Independent Online

A maverick fertility expert's claims to have impregnated a woman with the world's first cloned baby were greeted with scepticism and condemnation yesterday.

Dr Severino Antinori said a woman in his cloning programme was eight weeks pregnant and that thousands of couples were enrolled in the project, according to a report in the Gulf News, an English- language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates. He was said to have made the announcement at a genetic engineering conference in the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, but his office in Rome last night refused to confirm the claims.

If true, the pregnancy will cause uproar among anti- abortion groups, scientists and ethical experts worldwide.

Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said he was sceptical of the claim, but said if it was true the baby's future was grim.

"I don't believe Dr Antinori has in any way considered the welfare of the offspring," said Mr Nicholson. "I think he is trying to achieve personal notoriety. I don't believe he is truly trying to advance science for the benefit of mankind.

"With the sort of publicity-seeking Antinori goes in for, any resulting child clone is likely to become little more than a freak show."

Cloning involves taking the DNA from an adult cell, inserting it in a female egg and fusing them into a single embryonic cell using electricity.

Dr Antinori's claims would mean that the embryonic cell had been successfully implanted into a woman's womb, a technique that has evaded scientists. But other teams' claims to have cloned human embryos have been discredited, and Dr Antinori's previous ambition to clone a baby by the end of 2001 went unrealised.

The creators of Dolly, the world's first cloned animal, have warned against human clone experiments, saying that the cloning process had a low success rate and high abnormality and death rates, and the embryologist Professor Richard Gardner said Dr Antinori's claims were "grossly irresponsible".

The Human Reproductive Cloning Act, which became law last year, made human cloning a criminal offence carrying a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

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