By Hilary White

ROME, March 5, 2009 ( – Claims by an Italian gynaecologist to have cloned three children are being met with scepticism and silence in the scientific community. Severino Antinori, notorious for his previous cloning-related claims and love of publicity, told Italian media this week, “I helped give birth to three children with the human cloning technique.”

Antinori told Oggi weekly that the procedure involved the cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. “It involved two boys and a girl who are nine years old today. They were born healthy and they are in excellent health now,” he said. He provided no evidence for his claim, however, and has to date published no reports on his work in any peer-review journal.

His claim follows a flurry of publicity after he announced he had extracted sperm from a man in a coma to use to inseminate the man’s wife. Antinori told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, that he did it to help the woman “overcome the immense sadness” of the loss of her husband, who is dying of brain cancer.

In November 2002, Antinori also announced that he had used cloning to induce pregnancy in three women, but again declined to give names or evidence. At that time he said that the cloned children were due to be born in 2003.

Apart from his claims of cloning, Antinori is best known as an IVF specialist who offers artificial reproductive services to women past menopause. In 1994, he made world headlines when it was revealed that he had assisted Rosana Della Cortes, then aged 63, in becoming pregnant. She became one of the oldest women in history to give birth. Then, in May 2006, it was announced that 62-year-old East Sussex child psychiatrist Patricia Rashbrook was seven months pregnant after being treated by Antinori.

More reputable scientists have only recently begun to make verifiable reports of the creation of cloned human embryos using the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique; but as of late 2008, there are no documented cases of cloned children having been born.

In 2001, scientists at the private biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, based in Massachusetts, were the first to claim to have cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of generating embryonic stem cells. According to an article published in Scientific American, these were allowed to live only to the two, four and six-cell stage. But this claim was widely denounced as a “publicity stunt.”

In January 2008, Stemagen, a California firm, published a report in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Stem Cells, recording their success in creating what were again claimed to be the “first” cloned human embryos. “No other scientific group has documented the cloning of an adult human cell, much less been able to grow it to the blastocyst stage, the stage at which it is the adult donor cell that is driving embryonic development, the stage that yields the cells (the inner cell mass) from which embryonic stem cell lines are made,” said Stemagen’s Chief Scientific Officer.

Read related coverage:

Cloning Doc Antinori Under Police Investigation in Italy


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