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Company Reports Cloning Human Embryo

A U.S. biotechnology company Sunday disclosed that it has cloned a human embryo, something scientists describe as a breakthrough towards artificially creating a human being.

After years of research, Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology says it has cloned a human embryo. The research is explained in the Journal of Regenerative Medicine and in the popular magazine U.S. News and World Report. "Biologically [and] scientifically, the entities we're creating are not an individual," said Michael West, president of the company. "They're only cellular life. They're not a human life."

Mr. West, a medical researcher, appeared on the NBC television program Meet the Press. He insisted that his company's objective is not human cloning but the creation of lifesaving therapies for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes.

"Our dream is that someday we could take a patient's cell, skin cell, and give them back anything that they needed to cure disease." As to when that might happen, Mr. West said "it depends most critically on whether the U.S. Congress will allow this technology to move forward. And then if it does it depends on how many people can work on this."

The scientific breakthrough has drawn immediate criticism from groups opposed to human cloning. Congress has been debating legislation to forbid all forms of the process. Current law prohibits the use of taxpayer money for human cloning. Richard Shelby, a Republican senator from Alabama, opposes human cloning but believes within a few years an individual will soon be cloned if not in the United States, somewhere else. "I believe it will go on somewhere, perhaps outside if it is banned here," he said, "because I think science just goes continues to progress in certain ways. Whether we like it or whether we agree or not."

Scientists say that with a human embryo now cloned, a human clone could be only nine months away if that embryo were implanted in a woman's body.