Therapeutic cloning research backed by Danforth, Eagleton

Friday, May 31, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Adina Talve said she has never dreamed of being an athlete or an actress. Born with a congenital heart defect, she's already had four heart surgeries and may eventually need a transplant. So the 15-year-old Clayton High School student knows her limitations.

"Just getting to school takes all my energy," Talve said Thursday. "I do believe the knowledge is there that would save many lives, maybe even mine."

Adina was one of several people who spoke at a news conference at the Washington University School of Medicine in support of a U.S. Senate bill that would allow therapeutic cloning research. They also spokes against a competing bill, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., that would outlaw all types of cloning. President Bush supports the Brownback bill. Debate is expected to begin early next month.

Among the therapeutic cloning supporters were retired former Senate colleagues John Danforth and Thomas Eagleton. Danforth, a Republican, and Eagleton, a Democrat, both of the St. Louis area, said they oppose cloning of humans.

But both said therapeutic cloning -- somatic cell nuclear transfer by its formal name -- could hold the potential for helping and even curing millions of Americans suffering from diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's, heart disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease, which took the life of Danforth's brother, Donald, last year.

Brownback was traveling Thursday. His spokesman, Erik Hotmire, said, "The commodification of human life is a real fear -- if companies are able to create cloned human embryos, they will be able to patent their DNA."

Washington University physician Steven Teitelbaum, who is president-elect of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said the therapeutic cloning process does not involve creation of a new life form.

The process, Teitelbaum said, involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell, replacing it with material from the nucleus of a "somatic cell" (such as a skin cell) and stimulating this cell to begin dividing. Then, stem cells can be extracted that will be a genetic match to the patient.

The promise of the research is that patients could use their own cells to ward off serious illnesses, he said. "What we are doing is essentially giving the patient back his or her own cells."

Human cloning, using technology to create a child, is different, Teitelbaum said, and entails taking a fertilized egg and implanting it into a woman's uterus.

"All responsible scientists, and I would think all responsible citizens, are against reproductive cloning," he said.

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee said, "There is only one type of cloning. When one uses a human genetic package, that is human cloning and it creates a human embryo. This really is a process of creating human embryos for the sole purpose of killing them."

Johnson also noted there have been no conclusive studies indicating therapeutic cloning could help those afflicted with serious illnesses. "All of that is speculation," he said.

For LeAnn Hill, that sort of hope was enough.

Hill's daughter, Jessica, now 4 1/2, was born prematurely and suffered a spinal stroke at birth that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Not that it slows her much. LeAnn gripped Jessica's wheelchair to stop her from spinning circles, the blond-haired girl grinning mischievously.

Still, Hill worries about Jessica's future.

"I'm hoping she can go to school to be like the other kids," Hill said.

Adina Talve's mother, Rabbi Susan Talve, noted that research into therapeutic cloning has been going on for some time in England.

"Would I leave everything behind to save my child's life?," she asked. "Of course I would, in a heartbeat. Wouldn't you?"

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