| Wilmut: Fight disease
London, June 5: A proposal to create babies that are both cloned and genetically altered to prevent serious hereditary disease is outlined today by the leader of the team that created Dolly the sheep.
Ever since news that Dolly had been cloned from an adult cell made headlines around the world, Prof Ian Wilmut has repeatedly said he is “implacably opposed” to cloning a human being.
But in his forthcoming book After Dolly, he argues that, when the techniques are shown to be safe, society should consider cloning with genetic modification to prevent the birth of babies with serious diseases .
The Edinburgh University professor argues in the book that cloning an IVF embryo consisting of 100 or so cells is not the same as cloning a person.
The process of cloning ' nuclear transfer ' culminated in the birth of Dolly in 1996. Cloning also makes it possible to carry out precise genetic corrections, as demonstrated in 1997 when his team unveiled Polly, a sheep altered to secrete a human blood clotting protein in her milk.
The same method potentially offers a much more efficient way to achieve healthy births than current methods of screening embryos for harmful genes.
Wilmut writes: “Doctors should be able to offer at-risk couples the opportunity to conceive with IVF methods, break down the resulting embryos into cells, correct any serious genetic defects in these cells then clone demonstrably healthy cells to create a new embryo that can be implanted to start a pregnancy.”
The resulting child would be the identical twin of the original embryo but would have the diseased gene corrected in every one of its cells.
“I am extremely concerned about the effects on a child of being a clone of another person and I oppose it. However, an early embryo is not a person and I see the use of nuclear transfer to prevent a child’s having a dreadful disease as far less controversial.”
When Wilmut aired this proposal two years ago, few noted that it was even more radical than the prospect of human cloning alone, as it amounts to so-called germ line modification, which has stirred deep unease among scientists as genetic changes are passed on in eggs and sperm to future generations to change the human gene pool.