Chinese scientists have created dozens of cloned embryos advanced enough to harvest embryonic stem cells. Their intention is not to copy human beings, but create genetically matched cells to make tissues for transplant patients and for research. One group of researchers claims to have derived stem cells from hybrid embryos composed of a mixture of human cells and rabbit eggs.

This is not the first report of human cloning experiments. In 1998, researchers from South Korea claimed to have grown a cloned embryo to the four cell stage before destroying it. And Clonaid, a company set up by a UFO group, also claims to be making advances.

?Cloning is a numbers game,? says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). ?[The Chinese] had access to far greater numbers.? In cloning, a cell is fused with an egg from which the genetic material is removed. Given the difficulty of obtaining human eggs and informed consent in the U.S., ACT has only been able to construct 19 embryos.

But regulations are far less restrictive in China. Lu Guangxiu of the Xiangya Medical College directs a large fertility clinic, so she asked some of the women who come there every day to donate their leftover eggs. She claims that five per cent of her cloned embryos develop into blastocysts. From these, her team has harvested what they believe are ESCs and grown them for three generations in the laboratory. ESCs are able to develop into any cell type in the body.

Many human cells have the capacity to grow in the laboratory for several generations. To convince other scientists she has found ESCs, Lu will need to grow the cells through many more cycles, perhaps for as long as a year.

Cloning scientists in the U.S. and U.K. complain that their research has been hampered by political and ethical concerns, while it?s racing ahead in the rest of the world. Lanza says, ?[The Chinese Success] takes the air out of the argument that by passing laws here we can stop the technology from moving forward.?

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