West Virginia attorney Mark Hunt, who funded a secret human cloning lab that was recently exposed, says he has not given up hope that he will one day produce a clone of his baby son.
"I am not going to start up another laboratory," says Hunt, who served three terms in the state Legislature. "However if the technology would become available in the future, we certainly would never give up on our son."
Hunt and his wife Tracy had enlisted the help of French biochemist Dr. Brigitte Boisselier. A leader in the field of cloning, Boisselier is a member of the Raelians, who have a religious commitment to cloning stemming from their belief that life on earth was cloned long ago by a race of alien scientists.
The Hunts did not share her religious beliefs, and they had a falling out.
"Her interests in the press have been to forward and promote her religion, more than forward and promote the science," says Hunt.
Mission to Clone
At only 10 months old, Hunt's first son Andrew died after open surgery to address several birth defects. Soon afterward, the Hunts set out to make scientific history by producing another child with identical DNA; a sort of living memorial to Andrew.
"I think any parent would do everything in their power for their child," says Hunt. "So the least we can do for him is try to reproduce something from his body that would give his genetic makeup, his DNA, a chance to go on."
The Hunts agreed to pay Boisselier up to $5,000 a month and to fully finance a cloning lab. They also helped form a company called Bioserve, which would offer cloning services to other clients after successfully cloning Andrew.
Boisselier proposed using the same technique that had been used successfully in cloning animals. The DNA would be extracted from a cell in Andrew's tissue and then inserted into a human egg in which the original DNA had been removed. The resulting egg would then be placed into a surrogate mother's womb and allowed to grow into a fetus.
Hunt found an old school building in Nitro, W.Va., where he would build the cloning lab. He outfitted a former high-school science room with sophisticated lab equipment: a computerized centrifuge to separate out cells, a high-tech machine that reads DNA, and a $100,000 inverted in-vitro fertilization microscope used in the process of injecting the DNA into the egg.
In July, just six months after it began operation, the Hunts became disillusioned with Boisselier, and Bioserve's cloning effort came to a halt.
But there were other barricades too. The Food and Drug Administration began investigating the legality of the lab, and the Christian community was in an uproar over the ethics of human cloning.
The Hunts' pastor, Rev. Matthew Watts, was sympathetic to the couple's grief, but strongly opposed their efforts. "I believe that it may be one of the most blatant, brazen, defiant acts of humanity — an attempt to put themselves in the position of being gods," he says.
Hunt, who considers himself a Christian, says his effort to clone Andrew is no reflection of their spirituality. "We do believe in God," he says. "However, we also believe that God is a part of science, and this is science."
Boissellier is still determined to clone the first human and has a new cloning lab outside the United States with a new financial backer. But she's still under scrutiny. The U.S. Attorney's office in Syracuse, N.Y. is investigating her for fraud — accepting payment for services that most scientists say she can't possibly deliver in the foreseeable future.
The House has passed legislation outlawing human cloning. But the Hunts are still holding out hope that they will eventually be able to clone their baby.
In their home, their baby's nursery is still intact, and Hunt says they are hoping that some day, "with the tissue that we have that we can bring Andrew home."