'Secret' Gene Experiments Need More Oversight, Group Says

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - Thousands of secret cloning and gene experiments are conducted in Britain each year, and money that could be going to more fruitful projects is wasted on "fashionable" cloning research, according to a report released Wednesday.

Sue Mayer, the director of Genewatch UK, the group that issued the report, called for greater transparency in animal experiments.

"To be able to have a proper debate, we need to know what's going on," she said.

"There has been a fashion for cloning and gene experiments that seems to be running counter to accepted notions of disease," Mayer said. "While there are some single-gene disorders, the vast majority of diseases are more complex and involve multiple genes and environmental factors."

Mayer said cloned and genetically modified animals are unlikely to lead to cures because of their "artificial" nature and their dissimilarities compared to humans. She said such research was detracting from other, more relevant studies.

"If you look at the research that gets funded, both here and in the United States, it's the gene experiments that get an enormous amount of money," she said.

The report says that in many areas, there are safer and less expensive ways to produce chemicals and drugs, increase agricultural output and provide organs for transplantation than to use cloned or modified animals.

The report alleged that cloning has "been put forward as the holy grail of transgenic technology - the technique that will enable targeted genetic modification in large mammals."

"However, the technology is fraught with problems," it continued. "Cloned embryos tend to have severe abnormalities, resulting in an extremely high abortion rate, and the majority of those that are born alive seem to have some form of health defect."

One of the U.K.'s most prestigious scientific organizations, the Royal Society, argues that animal experiments including cloning are vital to scientific progress, but a recent government report said researchers were not doing enough convince the public of their claims.

The U.K. Home Office, which regulates animal experimentation through a series of prior licensing procedures, said Wednesday that adequate safeguards are in place to regulate cloning and gene experiments.

A departmental spokesman took issue with the conclusions of the report.

"The U.K. is one of the strictest nations in the world when it comes to animal testing," he said. "Experiments such as these are only carried out when absolutely necessary. This type of research does develop new treatments and it does save lives."

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