London, Dec. 15: The world’s first cloned baby will be born in Belgrade next month, Italian gynaecologist Severino Antinori has said in an interview with the Serbian weekly newspaper Nin.
“I think we have made a revolution in the field of genetics, and Serbia will go down in history,” Antinori said. “When the time comes you will be informed about the birth and the family.”
Lord Winston, founder of the National Health Service’s in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme in 1981, condemned Antinori’s latest claims.
“He’s been announcing this baby in January for the last 11 months or 12 months now,” Lord Winston said last night. “Shall we wait and see what happens in January and see if there really is a baby, and then whether we can have access to it and see if it really has been cloned'”
Lord Winston also raised fears, shared by many leading embryologists and scientists, about the danger of deformities in a cloned baby. “Don’t forget that every species that has been cloned has resulted in severe abnormalities except in a very few animals, and they have been the lucky ones,” he said.
The procedure, which is illegal in Britain, has also been strongly condemned by the Catholic Church in Antinori’s homeland on ethical grounds.
Antinori, 57, became notorious in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old post-menopausal Italian woman to become pregnant through fertilisation treatment administered at his Rome clinic.
Last September, the International Association of Private Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinics and Laboratories voted to expel him for “disreputable conduct”. He spent last week in the Yugoslavian capital at a seminar on sterilisation and artificial insemination.
Nin said that it had tracked him to the private Belgrade artificial insemination clinic Papic, but he declined to confirm whether the cloned baby would be born there. It is not known whether the embryo was created in Belgrade.
In the cloning process, DNA taken from the couples who wish to be cloned is inserted into donated human eggs.
Last month, Antinori told journalists that the unidentified mother’s pregnancy was progressing normally and that the male foetus was healthy and had “more than a 90 per cent chance” of being born. He first announced the pregnancy last April.
In the newspaper interview he insisted that he had not carried out the procedure himself, and that his involvement was merely “cultural and scientific”.
Two weeks ago, Panayiotis Zavos, an American fertility doctor who has fallen out with his former colleague Antinori, said his team, based in Lexington, Kentucky, had taken cells from seven people and stored them in liquid nitrogen ready for a rival cloning programme.
He does not expect to implant his first embryos until early next month.