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Genetic Crossroads
February 17th, 2004

­1. Critical comments in news coverage

Initial news coverage of the Korean announcement significantly overstated the near-term propects for therapeutic applications of cloning technology, and downplayed the risks. Some articles included, though rarely emphasized, comments giving more balanced assessments. Here is a sample of those:

­­ Rick Weiss, "S. Korean Scientists Describe Cloning," Washington Post (February 13)
"The South Korean team also provided previously undisclosed details about their experiments, revealing that their technique had not worked when they tried to clone male cells-a fact that calls into question its therapeutic potential for men….In the ethics arena, some experts raised questions about the way female volunteers were recruited for the study, which carried modest medical risks and offered them no benefits."

Rosie Mestel, "Clone Is One Step in Extended Process," Los Angeles Times (February 13)
"The report of a successfully cloned human embryo was a milestone in the field of stem cell research, but the medical promise of such endeavors still lies years in the future, scientists said Thursday."

"Cloning surprise sparks raging controversy," Singapore Straits Times (February 14)
"Even among those pursuing cell replacement treatments, many say that therapeutic cloning would be too inefficient and expensive, and that using stem cells from adults was more practical."

Gina Kolata, "Despite Advance in Cloning, Scientists Are Tempering Hope With Reality," New York Times (February 15)
"`We are mindful that this field has been overhyped,' said Dr. Irving Weissman, who directs the stem cell institute at Stanford University."

2. CGS commentary

Two recent articles featuring Center for Genetics and Society staff also addressed cloning issues:

CGS Director Richard Hayes, "Selective Science," TomPaine.com (February 12)
"The birth of the first genetically modified child would be a watershed moment in human history. It would set off a chain of events that would feed back upon themselves in ways impossible to control."

Pedro F. Frisneda, "La clonación, más allá de una novella (Cloning beyond fiction)" Tiempos del Mundo (February 12), featuring CGS Associate for International Affairs Rosario Isasi
"According to…Dr. Isasi… [H]umanity is facing a policy deficit, both national and international, concerning control of the new technologies of human genetic modification."

3. Other critical commentary

Judy Norsigian, "Road to Cloning: Caution Ahead," New York Times (February 17)
"To the Editor: Therapeutic applications of embryo cloning - still a distant promise - cannot be developed without first overcoming significant research hurdles with embryo stem cells derived from non-clonal embryos. Sadly, abortion politics have impeded much of this stem cell research. Moreover, many scientific companies involved in commercializing embryonic stem cell research have acknowledged repeatedly how impractical it would be to develop therapies from stem cells derived from clonal embryos. The news from South Korea underscores once again the critical need for both an effective global ban on human reproductive cloning and better information about fertility drugs used during egg extraction. It is a myth that these drugs have been adequately studied and that reasonable informed consent is possible. Finally, because embryo cloning is the gateway to genetic modifications that go far beyond medical treatment into the realm of designer babies, we need a much broader discussion of this contentious issue."

"Human Genetics Alert UK criticises cloning researchers' irresponsibility" (February 12)
"Responding to today's news of the cloning of human embryos, HGA's Director, Dr David King said: `So-called therapeutic cloning will never be possible in medical practice, because it requires hundreds of eggs per patient, which are not available. Serious scientists, and the companies involved in commercialising embryonic stem cell research, have repeatedly acknowledged this.' But by publishing this technique, what the Korean researchers have done is to give a big boost to those who want to make cloned babies. Before there is a global ban on reproductive cloning, people like Professor Zavos and the Raelians will be able to copy the technique to clone babies. The Koreans have been irresponsible in the extreme. The international community must now act immediately to ban reproductive cloning. There should be an international moratorium on any further embryo cloning research until this is in place.'"
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Hilary Rose, "Beware the Cowboy Cloners," The Guardian (February 16)
"What is clear is that the rush to experiment with human embryos is, to say the least, premature, driven more by the lust for scientific glory than a clear sense of the medical imperatives. As the procedures involved in therapeutic cloning are almost identical to those needed for reproductive cloning, the Korean achievement brings that closer, too. This inexorably opens the doors to those whom Suzi Leather, the chairwoman of the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority, calls `cowboy cloners'. It is this weakness in the medical case for human therapeutic cloning that throws the moral issues into such sharp relief."

4. Earlier critical assessments

Critical assessments of research cloning have been made for some time, but are rarely featured in major press outlets. Exceptions include:

Peter Aldhous, "Can They Rebuild Us?" Nature (April 5, 2001)
"The idea of therapeutic cloning, which offers the potential of growing replacement tissues perfectly matched to their recipients, is falling from favour…[M]any experts do not now expect therapeutic cloning to have a large clinical impact."

Denise Gellene, "Clone Profit? Unlikely: The Techonology's Commercial Viability Faces Many Hurdles," Los Angeles Times (May 10, 2002)
"As chief executive of Geron Corporation, [Thomas Okarma] has no interest in using cloned embryos to produce customized treatments for disease. The odds favoring success `are vanishingly small,' he said, and the costs are daunting. Okarma said it would take `thousands of [human] eggs on an assembly line' to produce a custom therapy for a single person. `The process is a nonstarter, commercially,' he said.

"`Where do you source that many eggs? Sourcing human eggs is a contentious issue in itself,' said Alan Robins, chief scientific officer of BresaGen Ltd., a cell therapy company in Australia and Athens, Ga. `It is not something we want to get involved in.'

"According to L­utz Giebel, CEO of CyThera, a cell therapy company in San Diego, `[Therapeutic cloning] is not commercially viable… Quality control is difficult; the FDA can't regulate it, [and] no one can afford the treatment.' He said that a complete ban on human cloning would have only `a limited impact on corporate product development.'"

Andrew Pollack, "Use of Cloning to Tailor Treatment Has Big Hurdles, Including Cost, " New York Times (December 18, 2001)
"`It's too laborious and costly to employ as a routine therapeutic procedure,' says Dr. Alan Colman, the research director at PPL Therapeutics, the Scottish company which helped to clone Dolly the sheep.…`They're never going to have enough women's eggs available to do it,' said Dr. Alan Trounson, director of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Australia and an adviser to ES Cell International, a company based in Singapore and Australia."


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