The scientists at Advanced Cell Technology, in Worcester, Massachusetts, claim they have cloned the first early human embryo. They want to create genetically matched replacement cells for patients with a wide range of diseases, and say they have no interest in transplanting these embryos into a woman?s womb to give birth to a cloned human being.

?These are exciting preliminary results,? says Dr. Robert P. Lanza, who is one of the researchers. ?This work sets the stage for human therapeutic cloning as a potentially limitless source of immune-compatible cells for tissue engineering and transplantation medicine.? They grew a six-cell human embryo by injecting a very small cell with its genetic material into a woman?s donated egg. In cloning, the injected DNA often comes from a skin cell, but the researchers this time used a cumulus cell, which nurtures a developing egg.

The scientists describe their work as preliminary. They have not yet been able to produce stems cells, which grow inside an embryo and turn into other body tissues. Stem cells can be used to generate replacement cells as treatments for diabetes, heart disease, spinal injuries, and many other ailments.

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Their announcement provoked skepticism from some scientists about whether viable cloned embryos have actually been created, as well as anger from anti-cloning groups.

Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, says ACT?s results are ?very preliminary.? He says a human embryo will double its number of cells every 24 hours, but even ACT?s most developed embryo had not done this. ?The furthest it got was to have six cells, at a time it should have had 60, so it had already died.?

Bruno Quintavalle, of the Pro-Life Alliance, says this is a ?milestone in scientific depravity.?

This cloning is legal in the U.S. because ACT is a private company that does not receive federal funds. Several states, including California, have banned human cloning and Congress is considering such a ban. President George W. Bush planned to push this bill before the 11 September attacks and will probably revive the proposed legislation. Following the announcement, Bush said he was ?100 per cent opposed to any type of cloning of human embryos.?

In the U.K., a legal loophole means cloning is not illegal but a bill is being presented to parliament on Monday that will make ?it an offence to place in a woman a human embryo which has been created by a method other than by fertilization?. This would not have made ACT?s work illegal if it had it been carried out in England. In November 1998, researchers at Kyunghee University in South Korea claimed to have produced cloned human embryos, but this was never confirmed.

Michael West, ACT?s Chief Executive Officer, says that cloning is one way of helping to stem a ?tidal wave of age-related disease that will accompany the aging of the population. We may have found a means of rebuilding the lifespan of cells. This would allow us to supply young cells of any kind, identical to the patient.?

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle feels the reports of the research are ?disconcerting and says, ?I think it?s going in the wrong direction.?

David King of Human Genetics Alert says, ?They have done the work for those who do want to clone humans.?

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