[The announcement October 18, 1997 that Bath University scientists had created a frog embryo without a head is seen by many as the latest step in a steady march toward creation of genetic monsters, including highly modified humans. While the moral debate over such research rages on, scientific efforts seem to be accelerating. CNI News thanks Stig Agermose for forwarding this story from the Associated Press.]
LONDON (AP) -- British scientists have created a frog embryo without a head, a technique that may lead to the production of headless human clones to grow organs and tissue for transplant, The Sunday Times reported.
None of the embryos grown by scientists at Bath University were allowed to live longer than a week, the newspaper reported in its early edition Saturday, October 18.
But the scientists believe the technique could be adapted to grow human organs such as hearts, kidneys, and livers in an embryonic sac living in an artificial womb.
Many scientists believe human cloning is inevitable following the birth of the sheep Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, at a laboratory in Scotland. Scientists at The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh created Dolly using cells from the udder of a dead sheep.
The Sunday Times said the two techniques could be combined so that people needing transplants could have organs "grown to order" from their own cloned cells.
The genetic composition of grown organs would exactly match those of the patient, eliminating the threat of rejection. It would also ease the shortage of organs for transplant.
Growing partial embryos to cultivate customized organs could bypass legal restrictions and ethical concerns, because without a brain or central nervous system, the organisms may not technically qualify as embryos.
"Instead of growing an intact embryo, you could genetically reprogram the embryo to suppress growth in all the parts of the body except the bits you want, plus a heart and blood circulation," said embryologist Jonathan Slack, professor at Bath University.
Some scientists accuse Slack of meddling with nature.
"It's scientific fascism because we would be creating other beings whose very existence would be to serve the dominant group," Oxford University animal ethicist Professor Andrew Linzey said.
"It is morally regressive to create a mutant form of life," he said.
But Lewis Wolpert, professor at University College London, said Slack's suggestions did not raise ethical issues "because you are not doing any harm to anyone."
Headless frog embryos can be created with relative ease by manipulating certain genes, suppressing development of a tadpole's head, trunk and tail.
Slack believes the breakthrough could be applied to human embryos because the same genes perform similar functions in both frogs and humans.
Under current government rules, Slack's embryos are not considered animals until they are a week-old, when they have to be destroyed.
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