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Human spare-part cloning set for approval



Human spare-part cloning set for approval
Tuesday, December 8, 1998

The UK Government is being recommended to allow the cloning of early-stage
human embryos for research into making transplant parts or for the
treatment of disease.

The proposal is made in a joint report from the Human Genetics Advisory
Commission (HGAC) and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
(HFEA).  The Health Department said it will respond early next year.

The report comes after a four-member panel of scientists was asked in
January to advise on the legal and ethical aspects of cloning after the
creation of Dolly the sheep.
The paper is published as it is reported that a team of scientists in Japan
have made eight identical calves from the genes of one cow, achieving a
success rate of 80%.

The UK panel says that while cloning human beings should be banned
outright, the same rigid rule should not apply to the use of early-stage
embryos for research.

The recommendation follows advances in America, where scientists have
succeeded in isolating and growing cultures of human embryonic stem cells -
the undeveloped parents of all the tissues in the body.

Ultimately, the use of cloning and stem cell technologies could lead to the
growth of replacement tissue in laboratories, which would avoid all the
usual transplant problems of rejection.

Many scientists foresee a day when brain cells are harvested to replace
those lost through degenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and
Alzheimer's disease. They also anticipate the production of muscle tissue
and perhaps even whole organs.

But the key to such breakthroughs is cloning - producing copies of
early-stage embryos from which stem cells can be taken.

Research of the sort being conducted in the United States is not allowed in
Britain at present. Under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act,
embryos less than 14 days old may only be used for research in certain very
strictly defined purposes.

New treatments

The HGAC Chairman, Sir Colin Campbell, said: "Cell nucleus replacement
techniques might be helpful with research into and eventually treatment of
serious conditions such as Parkinson's, Huntingdon's, Alzheimer's and
various types of cancer.

"New treatments might also be developed for diseased or damaged tissue.
This would entail growing cells or tissue in culture and not involve human
reproductive cloning.

"Although such applications are still some years away, we believe that it
would not be right at this stage to rule out limited research using such
techniques, which could be of great benefit to seriously-ill people."

The joint HGAC/HFEA Cloning Working Group report advises the government to
introduce legislation explicitly banning human reproductive cloning.  This
would effectively separate the issue of reproductive whole-body cloning
from "therapeutic cloning" as part of the search for new medical
treatments.

Regulation change

The report also recommends that Health Secretary Frank Dobson consider
changing the regulations so that the HFEA can issue licences for the
"development of therapeutic treatments for diseased or damaged tissues or
organs".

It said the issues should be examined again in five years to take into
account new scientific developments and the public attitudes towards them.
The report took into account a consultation exercise held between January
and April this year.

More than 1,000 copies of a document outlining the proposals were issued and it
was also posted on the HGAC's Website.

Sir Colin said: "Response to the consultation was conclusive. It is quite
clear that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable to a substantial
majority of the population.

"A total ban on its use for any purpose is the obvious and straightforward
way of recognising this."  Nonetheless, opponents of embryo research and
cloning have been quick to condemn the report.

Dr Patrick Dixon, author of the book Futurewise, which warns of the dangers
of unrestrained research, said: "This is the perfect Christmas present for
those who want to press ahead with human cloning.  "They will be able to
use British technology to steam ahead towards the daywhen human clones
become a reality."