Congress Punts Cloning Ban, Company May Have Failed to Clone

Washington, DC - An effort by pro-life lawmakers to force a vote on a temporary human cloning ban stalled in the Senate yesterday. Likey, the Senate will take no action until February or March on either the temporary six-month cloning ban or the complete ban passed by the House by a strong bipartisan vote last summer.

``These issue is not going to go away,'' said pro-life Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, shortly before lawmakers sidetracked the temporary human cloning ban on a procedural vote.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), while eager to stall the anti-cloning bid, said the Senate would ``consider carefully and dedicate whatever time is necessary'' to a debate cloning next year.

Under the Senate's rules, 60 votes were needed to allow the temporary cloning ban, in the form of an amendment sponsored by Lott and pro-life Senator Sam brownback (R-KS), to be added to another piece of legislation. Sensing he did not have enough votes, Lott pulled the effort.

Meanwhile, a representative from the firm claiming to clone a human being attempted to reassure Congress that human cloning may not be as close as some think and suggested that her firm actually did not create a cloned human embryo as it had previously suggested.

Work with monkeys shows there is something about primates - the class of animals that includes humans, monkeys and other higher animals - that makes them difficult to clone, Tanja Diminko of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) told a medical conference.

Diminko said her own colleagues at the Massachusetts-based company, who announced last week that they had cloned human embryos, may not actually have succeeded.

"It might be that you just can't make humans this way," Diminko told a conference. "It is something unique about primates," she added in remarks to reporters later.

Asked if her remarks should reassure members of Congress seeking an immediate ban or a moratorium on cloning for fear the field is moving too fast, Diminko said, "Absolutely."

A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on cloning.

Cattle, sheep, mice and pigs have been cloned in abundance from adult cells, but not yet a primate, although Diminko's former lab created a monkey clone by splitting an embryo.

Something funny happens to monkey embryos when nuclear transfer - the process used to make clones - is tried, Diminko told the Second Annual Conference on Regenerative Medicine being held in Washington.

"You first have to make nuclear transfer work. And it's not working," she said.

In nuclear transfer, researchers take a normal egg, remove the nucleus, which contains most of the genetic information, and replace it with the nucleus from another cell. A pulse of electricity is used to fuse the egg and the new nucleus. Any animal that results is a virtual copy of the adult.

But in monkey experiments, the tiny embryos start out all right but end up a mess, Diminko said. They form multiple nuclei but do not divide like a normal embryo would.

They look like cancer cells, she said.

"Maybe there is something unique to primates that may not tolerate the torture required to do this with other species," Diminko told the conference.

ACT reported it had cloned three human embryos, but they stopped growing after dividing just once or twice. Rival researchers said this may mean that ACT had actually not managed to make a clone. Diminko agreed.

"There is a multitude of reasons why embryos just stop growing," Diminko said.

She and other experts say eggs can sometimes be made to just start dividing a few times, without having been fertilized or reprogrammed through nuclear transfer.

"We are trying to collect eggs and trying to determine what does the reprogramming," she said.

"This is my passion - to try to create cells for cell therapy," she added. "If the egg can do it, them it should be possible to do it in a dish."

Diminko and other researchers say it may be possible to just make an adult cell transform itself into the embryonic form that is so powerful, but they will probably have to do experiments involving cloning to find out how.

Pro-Life Infonet
4. desember 2001