Human Genetics Alert

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Embargo 5pm 15th May 2013

Irresponsible researchers open the door to human cloning

Commenting on today's publication of a paper outlining a successful method for creating cloned human embryos, Human Genetics Alert Director, Dr David King, said: “Scientists have finally delivered the baby that would-be human cloners have been waiting for: a method for reliably creating cloned human embryos. This makes it imperative that we create an international legal ban on human cloning before any more research like this takes place. It is irresponsible in the extreme to have published this research.”

In their press release the scientists argue that while the medical potential of the research is great, the risks of human cloning are slight. But in fact, it is the other way round, as the scientists' own data demonstrates.

Reassurances on human cloning: the arguments offered by the researchers to suggest that embryos created by their methods could not be implanted to create cloned babies are extremely flimsy. The main argument, that since it has been impossible to create cloned monkeys, the same will apply to humans is pure conjecture. We note that this argument is not made in the research paper, since it certainly would not pass peer review. This reassurance hangs on the 1% difference in gene expression between the cloned ES cells and ES cells from IVF embryos. Critically, with monkeys there are no hordes of desperate or egoistic rich patients and unscrupulous IVF doctors eager for fame and fortune to drive cloning efforts forward.

Medical value of cloned ES cells: it is clear that the ES cells analysed in the paper, although they seem similar to normal ES cells, are abnormal, with clear differences in gene expression to normal cells. In fact, as the paper mentions, the ability to create ES cells means rather little, since such cells could also be created from polyploid embryos (containing 4 rather than the normal 2 copies of each chromosome). Such differences from normal cells, which are undoubtedly due to problems with imprinting and reprogramming of gene expression are likely to make those cells unusable for medical purposes and misleading for research purposes, although they may not preclude bringing a baby to term. Furthermore the whole project of ‘therapeutic cloning' has always been very unlikely to be usable, due to the extremely high cost of generating personalised cells for each patient.

Finally, attempts to apply such techniques widely in medical practice, even with the efficiencies achieved by these experts, would require many women to undergo the risky hormonal treatments involved in egg donation. In one recent case in Toronto an egg donor suffered a stroke as a result of the treatments2.

For more information, contact Dr David King on 020 7502 7516 or 07854 256040.

Notes for Editors

1.Human Genetics Alert is an independent secular watchdog group that supports abortion rights.

2. I Thought I Just Had to Sleep it Off': Egg Donor Sues Toronto Fertility Doctor After Suffering Stroke