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Is It Possible Clonaid Produced First Cloned Human?

Aired December 27, 2002 - 09:50   ET


SANJAY GUPTA? Well, is it possible that Clonaid has produced the first world-cloned human? And joining us from Worcester, Massachusetts, Dr. Robert Lanza. His company Advanced Cell Technologies successfully cloned a human embryo last year.
Dr. Lanza, you probably listened in to some of this press conference with us. We were sort of shaking our heads. Do you think this is true? Do you think this just happened?

ROBERT LANZA, ADVANCED CELL TECHNOLOGIES: Of course, without any scientific data, one has to be very, very skeptical. This is a group, again, that has no scientific track record. The have never published a single scientific paper in this area. They have no research experience in this area, in fact, have never even cloned a mouse or a rabbit.

I have to say that I think this is appalling and scientifically irresponsible. Again, I think that we shouldn't dismiss them outright. I think that we do have the technology, at present, to clone human embryos and it may be a lot easier than many scientists think.

GUPTA: You know, and that's sort of the big point. People talk about actually cloning human embryos. But to actually get a human being, all you really have to do is implant that into a uterus, you know, those clump of cells into a uterus and allow that to grow. Is it really that big a leap? Is this just so preposterous, you think?

LANZA: No, actually, this may be a lot easier than it is, for instance, to generate embryonic stem cells. We do know, for instance, we published a paper last year where we actually generated human embryos, using this technology that were between four and eight cells. And we know that in mice, goats and pigs, for instance, that those very same early stage embryos, that are only anywhere from two to eight cells, give rise to term animals. In fact, the trend in IVF clinics worldwide is to actually implant these early stage embryos -- embryos that are only three days old -- that only have in the cluster four to eight cells.

So again, as immoral and unethical as this may be, there is a real chance that could have had some success. This is a pure numbers game. If they have devoted enough resources and they had access to enough eggs, there is a distinct possibility. But, again, without any scientific data, one has to be extremely skeptical. I know Michael Guillen very well and I will definitely trust the outcome of those data. GUPTA: You know, we've heard how many attempts it took with Dolly -- 276 -- before they actually were able to produce a clone which, by the way, had a lot of health problems, as well, after it was born. But after that, you know, the numbers we're hearing now is 5 out of 10 of the implantations actually appear to be carry out a successful pregnancy. Talk about those numbers. Do they make sense to you?

LANZA: Yes. Well, first of all, the one attempt -- one out of 277 -- is very deceptive. What that number actually represents is what we call nuclear transfer reconstruction. That means you take a cell and you put it into an empty egg. But of those, only a certain percentage of those are actually implanted. Those are the ones that actually generate early stage embryos. And we do find that we actually are having success up to 60 percent of the implantations, at least in the cow model, and it's even higher in some other models.

GUPTA: And, you know, one of the other things, after the baby is born and, again, the scientist Brigitte Boisselier said "the baby is fine," quote,unquote. We don't really know what that means. But the whole host of medical problems actually was inflicted upon those animals that were cloned. Talk about that, with respect to humans. I mean, they talk about these animals having just disastrous medical problems, even within weeks, after they were born. Do you anticipate that in humans if, in fact, this is true?

LANZA: Well, we recently published an article where we reviewed all the published data on all of the cloned animal species, and it actually is rather surprising. It turns out that only about 25 percent of the animals that actually were born healthy, or I should say that were born to term, were actually defective. It turns out that three out of over four of those animals actually was healthy at birth. But I should add to that this is at birth and that, as these animals age in life, it's going to turn out that we're going to start seeing problems. For instance, we have started to see in some of our animals, a tumor in one of the animals, after several years. Another animal has developed grand mal seizures and it, periodically, just drops to the ground. So again, although a baby may be born healthy there is a distinct possibility problems could occur later.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Lanza, Daryn Kagan here. Just a quick question I want to ask you because a lot of this is about ethics. You yourself, as part of your science, say that you have cloned a human embryo. Why is that OK, but, in your eyes, you believe what's possible this group has done to be immoral and unethical? Where do you draw the line?

LANZA: Well, the line is that, you know, first of all, my main concern here is if there's a backlash, it could cripple a very legitimate area of medical research that could save the lives of millions of people. We feel that human reproductive cloning, the use of this technology to produce human beings, is absolutely of abhorrent and it is not only unsafe but, again, is ethically questionable.

So I think that to clone individual cells -- microscopic groups of cells to save a life, say, a child that may eventually go blind or have kidney disease or have limbs amputated -- if we can create some microscopic cells to alleviate that child from suffering for the rest of their life, I think that that is something that is consistent with the goals of medicine. And I think all of the medical community has come out in support of the medical applications of this technology.

There was committee at the National Academy of Sciences, arguably, the most prestigious scientific group in the world, and they came out strongly in support of the medical applications of this. I don't think there's a reputable scientist on this planet who would advocate using this technology to generate a human child, as was just announced. I think that what you just heard is what many in the religious right and the antiabortion groups have been praying for. This is a nightmare for all of us who are trying to handle this field in a responsible manner.

GUPTA: OK. Dr. Robert Lanza from Advanced Cell Technology, which has cloned an embryo before, thank you very much for joining us.


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