His name is Snuppy. He looks like an ordinary Afghan
hound, judging by the photos that have run in newspapers around the world.
But he's actually unlike any other dog on earth. Snuppy is the first
canine clone - and a potent symbol for a host of ethical issues about the
use of animals in biotechnology.
In addition to being man's best friend, dogs have long
been considered one of the most difficult species to clone. But South
Korean scientist Woo-Suk Hwang found a way. And in so doing, he made it
clear that scientists are willing to spend enormous amounts of time and
money on experiments that are more entertainment than science.
Hwang has said that his group's aim in creating Snuppy is
to develop genetically identical laboratory dogs for the study of human
diseases. Others have imagined cloning to be a way to perpetuate the
existence of a beloved companion. But neither notion is remotely
realistic. Pouring time and money into such clone-based research actually
has profoundly negative effects on both human health and animal welfare.
FIRST, ONE BASIC moral issue: The cloning process often
means operating on hundreds of animals to extract their eggs in order to
try to produce an infant. About 90 percent of cloning attempts fail to
produce viable offspring. Those born alive often have compromised immune
systems and higher rates of infection and tumor growth. A dismaying number
- perhaps about 30 percent - suffer from "large offspring syndrome," a
debilitating condition marked by an enlarged heart, immature lungs, and
other health problems.
Even if cloning were more efficient, it would still not be
the scientific path we need to pursue. Answers to the most pressing human
health problems - heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and
others - lie in understanding human cells, human genes and, in some cases,
Profound physiological differences make it very difficult
to extrapolate experimental results from a dog or any other animal to a
human. Trying to use animals as "models" for humans has produced some
catastrophic results. One of the most disturbing recent examples is the
anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, which tested as safe in mice and rats but
turned out to double the risk of heart attack and stroke in humans.
SOME SCIENTISTS are using human genetic material to create
human-animal hybrids, such as pigs with human blood and mice with human
brain cells. Yet these animals, called chimeras after the legendary Greek
monster, raise troubling new issues. There's little reason to believe that
hybrid mice will be much more effective than ordinary mice at serving as a
realistic model for human biological systems.
It's critical that scientists not get distracted by such
exotic experiments, especially when there are more promising avenues of
research to pursue. It is time to train our scientific sights on human
disease. Rather than tinkering with - and often abusing - animals in
attempts to make them more like us, we would do better to directly study
human diseases ethically and noninvasively.
When we take full advantage of the power of modern
scanning methods, genetic analyses, cellular research and clinical trials,
animals will benefit - and so will human health.
(The writer is a medical doctor, a nutrition researcher
and the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.)
Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services
Source: Augusta Chronicle, The
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