Cloning Doctor Ridiculed By Scientists, Government

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - British officials and scientists have reacted with skepticism to a new human cloning claim made over the weekend by a controversial fertility doctor.

Panayiotis Zavos, a Kentucky-based researcher, said during a press conference in London on Saturday that he had implanted a cloned embryo in a woman's womb.

Zavos, who has made similar claims in the past, did not provide any conclusive proof of his claims. Cloning human embryos for reproductive purposes is illegal in Britain, but Zavos said the procedure wasn't carried out in the United States or Europe.

His announcement came under immediate fire from mainstream scientists who cast doubt on the claims and raised ethical concerns. A large portion of animal cloning experiments have resulted in failures and abnormalities, and doctors say there's no reason to believe experiments on humans would be any different.

The Royal Society, Britain's leading scientific body, said that Zavos' claims would only be of interest "if and when" he provided evidence to back them up.

"What is more worrying is, without being sure of any substance to the claims, some infertile couples may have their hopes falsely raised," the society said in a statement.

The chairman of the society's working group on cloning, Richard Gardner, said the risks involved in human cloning were simply too high to justify experimentation.

"To embark on human cloning at this stage with our current knowledge of what happens in animals, just seems to me quite astoundingly irresponsible," Gardner told BBC radio.

"We feel that Dr. Zavos has exposed this woman to near suicidal risk for his own financial and egotistical motives," said Patrick Cusworth, a spokesman for the anti-abortion charity Life.

Government ministers also joined in the condemnation.

"This government shares the widespread public repugnance that human cloning could be attempted and views this as a gross misuse of genetic science," said U.K. Health Secretary John Reid.

Zavos claimed the embryo was cloned from skin cells, implanted into the womb of a 35-year-old woman and that there was a 30 percent chance of pregnancy. He said it would be clear within two to three weeks whether a pregnancy had occurred.

When asked why he refused to submit to his research to highly respected medical journals such as Nature and Science , Zavos said the publications didn't have enough experts to adequately assess his findings.

"Critics may find my work morally or ethically offensive. I respect their opinions," Zavos told journalists. "But I would do anything to help (my clients)."

"I am simply doing this to help my patients and to give them the child that they long for," he said.

Zavos and British doctor Paul Rainsbury also said they planned to offer embryo splitting, a technique whereby one half of an embryo is implanted into a woman while the other is frozen in case the genetic material is needed later in life.

Zavos and others, including Italian doctor Severino Antinori and scientists from the Raelian cult, have garnered publicity from their cloning claims, but no DNA proof of a human clone has ever been offered to a respected scientific journal.

See previous story:
Cloning Claim Again Draws Skeptical Responses (10/14/2003)

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