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Group says it will move human cloning work offshore

Boisselier says she hopes to successfully clone a human within a year  

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Producer

(CNN) -- The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on a religous group's attempts to clone a human being, a researcher said Friday.

Brigitte Boisselier, the chief scientist for a company called Clonaid -- which was founded by a religious group called the Raelians -- said FDA investigators visited her laboratory in the spring and told her to stop her experiments.

Boisselier said the Raelians, who believe human life on Earth was the result of genetic experiments by extraterrestrials, will move their work to another country.

"I will never do anything illegal, that is why I decided to move part of the lab to another country," she said. She would not disclose the laboratory's current location.

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    Boisselier, a French biochemist, said she hopes to clone a human being within a year. The FDA visit was made about two weeks after Boisselier argued before Congress that her company should be allowed to pursue human cloning, she said.

    The FDA would not confirm that it visited the lab. A spokeswoman did confirm that the agency sent a letter to the Raelians stating the FDA has jurisdiction over regulation of clinical research using human cloning technology.

    U.S. News and World Report will report in next week's issue that a federal grand jury in Syracuse, N.Y., near Boisselier's home, has subpoenaed her phone records and other documents. Boisselier told CNN she has not been served with any subpoenas.

    The Raelians were founded in France in 1973 and claim 55,000 members in 84 countries. They founded Clonaid in 1997 in the Bahamas.

    But after stories were written about the group's goals, the Bahamanian government pressured the company to leave. Clonaid relocated last year to an unidentified location in the United States, said Nadine Gary, in charge of public relations for the company.

    The research is funded by a man whose 10-month-old son died after a heart operation. The father, who has remained anonymous, wants DNA from his son to be used to create a clone.

    Boisselier said she wants to prove it is safe to clone a human. In March, she told CNN, "We hopefully will have an embryo of this baby by the end of this month or maybe next month."

    But this month she said she would not confirm a pregnancy until a healthy baby is born.

    The prospect of cloning a human moved from science fiction into the realm of possibility in 1997, when Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult. It also raised concerns: The House of Representatives held a second hearing this month to try to determine whether there should be a federal ban on human cloning.

    "At least half, probably about three-quarters of pregnancies that are generated will be lost," predicted Dr. Jonathan Hill, assistant professor of animal reproduction at Cornell University.

    Scientists have cloned sheep, cows, goats, pigs and mice, but their success rate is as low as one live birth in 100 attempts.

    But other scientists are plowing ahead. In addition to the work at Clonaid, former University of Kentucky professor Panayiotis Zavos said he plans to clone a human within the next year.

    In order to clone a human, scientists would remove the nucleus of an egg and extract its genetic material, leaving just its shell. Then the nucleus of a cell taken from the body of the person to be cloned would be inserted into the shell.

    With only the genetic material from the person to be cloned inside the shell of the egg, the cell would be jolted with electricity to activate cell division. The embryo would then be implanted into a surrogate, who -- if the experiment were to succeed -- would carry the fetus to term.

    But putting theory into practice is not easy: Cloning Dolly required 277 attempts. And it carries risks. Hill, who has cloned cattle, said the cloned calves are often sick and abnormally large.

    Such talk has not deterred Boisselier, who said any pregnancy would be monitored and, should it go awry, "we will anticipate to do an abortion."

    Though the scientific and ethical hurdles may be daunting, the legal barriers are few: only California, Michigan, Louisiana and Rhode Island ban public or private funding of cloning research.

    There is a federal moratorium on the use of federal funding for research on cloning humans and many scientists abroad are abiding by a self-imposed moratorium on cloning humans. Several countries forbid cloning by law.

    • UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
    • Roslin Institute Online: Information on cloning and nuclear transfer
    • PhRMA Genomics: Cloning

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