Friday, March 02, 2001

UK cloning advocate to leave

He backs friend's intent to carry out project with humans

        LEXINGTON — A doctor at the center of a worldwide debate on human cloning is leaving his longtime post at the University of Kentucky.

        Panayiotis Zavos told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he has agreed to retire from the school, where he has been a professor of animal sciences in the agriculture department for two decades.

        The university has not had involvement in any cloning projects, but Dr. Zavos said school officials were concerned by his association with such a controversial project.

[photo] Dr. Panayiotis Zavos discusses cloning in his office at the University of Kentucky this week.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
        “My life is too colorful for the university to handle, so we have severed our relationship,” Dr. Zavos said. “We did it mutually. Everybody's happy; life goes on.”

        On Jan. 25, Dr. Zavos' longtime friend, Dr. Severino Antinori of Rome, announced in Lexington that he plans to attempt a human cloning within the next 18 months.

        Dr. Zavos is joining Dr. Antinori in an international scientific consortium next week to pursue the project, which they say would be only for those who can't have children any other way. Dr. Antinori said last month that he had identified at least 10 couples interested in cloning, and Dr. Zavos said they've received inquiries from thousands of others worldwide.

        Although Dr. Antinori leads the cloning effort, Dr. Zavos has become its most visible and outspoken champion.

        After several news accounts identified Dr. Zavos as a Kentucky faculty member, the university issued a statement clarifying that Dr. Zavos' involvement in cloning was outside his regular university duties, and that the school could not participate in cloning experiments of any kind under regulations banning the use of federal funds for human cloning research.

        Dr. Zavos will retain a designation as professor emeritus. He also has a number of outside business interests, including the Lexington-based Andrology Institute, which offers various reproductive services for couples having problems conceiving children.

        This weekend, Dr. Zavos will fly to Europe for press conferences in Athens and Cypress, before joining Dr. Antinori in Rome. About 20 scientific experts will gather there March 9 to discuss human cloning.

        Dr. Zavos said that he also will visit several countries — which he declined to name — that are interested in being cloning sites.

        “The world is on fire because of this subject,” he said. “We started getting calls from all over the world the day after the announcement. Now, CNN tells me it's the No. 1 story in the world; NBC tells me it's the hottest topic there is. I'm amazed by the amount of feedback we're getting.”

        Many critics say human cloning intrudes into an area that rightly should be left to God. Others worry that although scientists can clone sheep and other animals, the process is too unsafe for humans. Still others fear that, even if cloning worked, it would become a tool for vain people interested in copying themselves.

        But Dr. Zavos, who is a reproductive physiologist, maintains that cloning fears are overblown.

        “The risk of malformed embryos or what-have-you can happen, if you don't know what you're doing,” he said. “That's what we are trying to avoid. ... The quality controls still must be developed, which is why we are bringing together these experts.”

        Dr. Zavos contends that human cloning is inevitable, and that at least one scientific expert has suggested that accidental human clonings already may have occurred during standard in-vitro fertilization procedures.

        “This technology is going to be developed — the genie is out of the bottle and you can't put it back,” Dr. Zavos said. “Do we develop it as serious, dedicated scientists? Or do we let somebody else do it in some clandestine laboratory, and start cloning the wealthy and the famous and forget about people who really need this?”


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- UK cloning advocate to leave
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