Dr. Severino Antinori told La Stampa newspaper that 1,300 couples in America, mostly in Kentucky, and 200 in Italy are candidates for his research and that he plans to start cloning embryos in November.
Antinori, along with and Panos Zavos, a Kentucky fertility specialist working with him, defended their plans to create cloned human babies at a conference in Washington Tuesday.
Saying he would take appropriate steps to avoid babies being born with severe abnormalities, Antinori said he planned to proceed toward creating the world's first cloned human babies.
Antinori, who has previously said he planned to clone a human embryo before the end of the year, has been invited to discuss the scientific and medical aspects of human cloning at a panel discussion Tuesday at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.
"Ours will be an experiment of therapeutic cloning for those couples who have no hope of having children," La Stampa quoted Antinori as saying.
Antinori, a Rome-based fertility specialist famous for helping women past menopause conceive, is among several scientists who have begun work cloning and harvesting human cells, fueling the divisive ethical debate that was sparked when Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1997.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has said it has authority over such science and would not allow cloning. Additional legislation that would ban cloning efforts is pending.
The Italian medical association has already launched disciplinary action against Antinori for his stated plans, which would also violate a Council of Europe convention prohibiting human cloning that came into force in March.
On Monday, the vice president of the Rome's medical association, Mario Falconi, said he could be barred from practicing altogether.
"He is risking not being allowed to practice medicine in this country," Falconi said, adding that Antinori has already been asked to appear before the association's governing council.
Italy's medical code stipulates that medical experimentation is allowed only for the prevention and correction of medical problems.
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