London -- The head of a science company backed by a shadowy cult claimed Tuesday that the organization has implanted several women with cloned embryos and will produce the world's first cloned human late this year or early in 2003.
Clonaid, an offshoot of the Swiss-based Raelian cult, claims to have been trying to implant women with cloned embryos since March of this year.
"We have several viable pregnancies," Clonaid President Brigitte Boisselier said by phone Tuesday.
Boisselier said the company was working on ten different "cases" - she described "case" as an infertile couple, a homosexual couple, or a couple who has lost a previous child - but refused to say the total number of pregnancies Clonaid had created.
Boisselier said the company's research would be published around the time of the first birth and claimed a success rate "above 30 to 40 percent."
But mainstream scientists, including researchers with the Edinburgh-based Roslin Institute who cloned the first mammal, have dismissed claims by Clonaid and other rogue experimenters.
Attempts to clone animals have met with massive failure rates and unexplained abnormalities, and pregnancy rates even approaching the numbers claimed by Boisselier are unheard of. The Roslin scientists say that about 1 percent of cloned mammal embryos actually develop into live offspring and that many die in late pregnancy or soon after birth.
Human cloning claims were also made earlier this year by Italian scientist Dr. Severino Antinori, who told a television show that he had implanted three women with cloned embryos. Two of the three were in former Soviet republics and one was in an "Islamic state," Antinori said.
Kentucky-based Panayiotis Zavos, a former colleague of Antinori, has claimed to have up to six experiments underway in an unnamed country.
The Las Vegas-based Clonaid is funded by the Raelian cult, a bizarre organization which believes that humans were formed as a result of alien cloning experiments and that Jesus was resurrected through a cloning technique.
Last month, the company said it had moved a woman pregnant with a clone out of South Korea in advance of moves by that country to ban human cloning.
At a conference in Japan last July, Clonaid claimed that it had around 50 "host mothers" who had agreed to attempt to carry a cloned human to term.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to outlaw all human cloning, rejecting an amendment to allow "therapeutic cloning," or the creation of cloned embryos for research purposes or medical treatments.
The United Nations has begun discussions on a worldwide treaty that would ban reproductive human cloning.