Those who think human clones are some far-off fantasy should meet Michael West, a scientist who says his lab, Advanced Cell Technology, has made a human clone already. As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, West says the lab has already made attempts at cloning human cells.
"It's a whole new area of medicine. It's very powerful,'' says West. A recent clone attempt, with cells given by an anonymous donor, grew to six cells before it stopped growing last November.
"What we did was a very simple thing. We put a human body cell into a human egg cell."
While some scientist doubt this claim, West's announcement of a human clone drew attention to a well-kept secret. Most of the nations top research scientists favor what's called "therapeutic cloning" — human clones produced in the lab, not to make a baby, but to make embryonic stem cells.
Asked whether Americans have failed to look at cloning as medicine, West agreed.
"That's right. They're thinking we're cloning Hitlers and Mussolinis instead of cells. Were thinking of curing life threatening diseases, not cloning people. "
To West, therapeutic cloning is the answer to a list of diseases like Alzheimer's, other diseases.
Because, he says, with cloning, all medicine in the future will be personal.
"The idea is, one day if you get sick, doctors will be able to clone you. They will then use your stem cells to grow whatever tissue you need, be it brain cells or a whole organ, and because that tissue is you, it won't be rejected."
"I think the ramifications of therapeutic cloning could be huge,'' says Dr John Gearhart, of Johns Hopkins, one of the scientists asking Congress to permit cloning for research. The basic argument is, that for the first 14 days, a lab dish clone is just a clump of cells — not a human life.
"You cannot safely make a human being from that. I would say the cells are alive, but it's not a human being."
David Prentice, a cell biologist, calls the distinction between cells and life--biologically fuzzy. He believes clones are people from cell one.
"What species is it if it isn't a human being?"
"Scientifically, it's a human being, a human embryo. The real question that comes up is, is it a person, or is it a piece of property?" asks Prentice, with Indiana State University
Counters West: "This is a war against disease."
West predicts cloning for research is now an unstoppable reality that will happen this year, driven by the speculative promise that cloning is the future of medicine.