Severino Antinori, the Italian fertility doctor regarded by many as a maverick, announced at a conference last week that a woman who is a patient in his reproductive cloning project is eight weeks pregnant. He did not, however, specifically state whether the woman is carrying a cloned embryo.
Antinori has neither confirmed or denied whether the baby is a clone. He has, however, told an Italian journalist that the pregnancy is 'real' and that he has a 'limitless supply of money' for his project. He said that his team, which includes Dr Panos Zavos, is working in an Islamic country and that the embryo is the 'clone of an important, wealthy Arab personality'.
The claim has caused controversy, with reactions ranging between shock, anger and disbelief. Rudolf Jaenisch, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, said that he was 'extremely angry... but very sceptical' about it. William Keye, the president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine warned that 'despite the assertions of progress made by some self-proclaimed cloning experts, there is no scientific evidence to justify an attempt to clone a human being'. He urged people to view the claims with scepticism rather than alarm.
Antinori also claimed, in the journal Scientific American, that he has cloned human embryos that 'grew up to 20 cells'. Last November, Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotechnology company said that it had created six-celled cloned embryos. Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, said that he finds it hard to take Antinori's claims seriously, adding 'he has been saying for months that he has cloned animals, and never substantiated those claims'.