Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Scientists Ponder Creation of Headless Clones

Science's new frontier - a headless human?
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, October 29

Headless mice are already a fact and a headless human being born in a laboratory for organ transplants could just be the next step -- the frightening, if exciting, prospect was put forth on Friday at a surgeons' meet in New Delhi.

Thirty years ago, the debate was on in-vitro fertilisation. It is now an accepted reality offering hope to millions of childless couples all over the world.

But then these are issues that have confronted science all the time, said P.B. Desai, former director of the Mumbai-based Tata Memorial Centre.

He was speaking on 'Conquest over mortality' at the golden jubilee meet of the Delhi chapter of the Chicago-based International College of Surgeons (ICS).

"Science is moving at such a fast pace that scientists have proven that they can create headless mice through removal of genes in embryo that control development of the head. But the body would have the capacity to keep the organs functional for use as transplants," said Desai.

Just like the ongoing debate and ban in the US about use of stem cells for human cloning, Desai anticipates a possible ban on the creation of a headless human being who has the capacity to keep the organs functioning but no thinking mind.

"The ultimate aim of science and medicine is towards immortality. But I personally think a human being has to first learn to be a man, and once you learn the value of finite, you will not play god," Desai told delegates at the meet, attended by over 250 leading surgeons of the country and overseas.

The quest for immortality could lead to the manipulation and creation of a headless man for commercial exploitation and plunder of organs while taking care of all the legal issues, Desai warned.

Opening up thrilling, but scary prospects, Desai brought forth the possibilities offered by biotechnology with scientists having almost completed genomic profiling. So far around 40,000-50,000 genes have been mapped out.

Genomic profiling or mapping has the capacity to predict the possibilities of a person getting a certain disease with high accuracy, enabling early intervention to prevent it through the removal of the organ or the culprit gene and introducing another gene.

Gene mapping is already being offered to people at high cost in the US.

"Embryonic stem cell, which holds promise of cure of any organ, is but a slow move towards immortality. The capability of stem cells is amazing as they can reproduce any organ," Desai said.

Bringing to fore the dilemma on the legalities, moral and religious issues involved, he said: "Science is too important a matter to be left to the scientists alone, just as war is too important a matter to be left to the generals alone. There are always political implications."

An oncologist of great repute, Desai said while stem cells holds promise of cure that could cut down on need for organ transplants, genetic engineering could help to remove bad genes and offer cure for cancer or even pre-empt it.