Robert Lanza, whose company last year reported the first successful cloning of a human embryo, presented his case on July 15 in favor of what may be the most controversial biological practice of our time: human therapeutic cloning. Speaking at the Salomon Center to a crowd made up mostly of Brown summer-studies high school students, Lanza, who is medical director of Advanced Cell Technology Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts, argued that cloning could one day provide cures for diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to diabetes.
Because federal guidelines prohibit the use of federal funds for human cloning research, Lanza and his colleagues at Advanced Cell Technology are the only team of scientists in the country openly researching human therapeutic cloning. The practice remains controversial because it involves the harvesting of stem cells from an early-stage embryo created by swapping an egg's DNA with another's and coaxing the egg to divide. In addition, many opponents fear that the technique could give rise to the manipulation of human traits reminiscent of eugenics.
Lanza noted that whether "preimplantation embryos" have the same rights as an adult or child will largely determine the future of cloning technology: "If we can take a skin cell and create a microscopic ball of cells in a petri dish to alleviate a lifetime of suffering, the question is: should we proceed?"
To Lanza the answer is a resounding yes. In addition to treating degen-erative diseases, Lanza said, therapeutic cloning could eventually allow scientists to use a person's own DNA to create organs that would replace failing kidneys and hearts while avoiding many of the complications that plague current transplant procedures. "Something this important," he said, "re-quires the talents of the entire U.S. biomedical community."