Kevin Lee

FDA Panel Debates the Safety of Creating Embryos with Three Parents

by , 03/02/14
filed under: Design for Health, News

Food and Drug Administration, FDA, three parent embryos, genetic modification, Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society, Oregon Health and Science University, mitochondrial DNA, mitochondria, designer babies, creating embryos from the DNA of three people, DNA modification, DNA, embryos, medical research, ethical debates, healthy children,Photo via koya979 / Shutterstock

The Food and Drug Administration is weighing the benefits of a bold new technique that produces embryos with DNA from three people. It may sound crazy, but the Associated Press reports that the FDA is currently deciding if it should allow research labs to pursue the experimental technique, which could help prevent children from inheriting genetic diseases. Meanwhile, those opposed to the procedure say that approving three parent embryos could lead to ‘designer babies.’

Food and Drug Administration, FDA, three parent embryos, genetic modification, Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society, Oregon Health and Science University, mitochondrial DNA, mitochondria, designer babies, creating embryos from the DNA of three people, DNA modification, DNA, embryos, medical research, ethical debates, healthy children,Photo via heromen30 / Shutterstock

The experimental procedure takes a normally impregnated embryo and introduces the DNA of a third female embryo. If approved, scientists in the United States could begin testing with embryos from women who have defective genes linked to blindness, organ failure and many other inheritable diseases. Current animal tests suggest that three-parent embryos could produce healthier offspring. However, experts in the field have warned researchers that it could take decades to see if the resulting children are truly healthy.

Related: The Designer Baby Debate – Should We Allow Genetic Engineering of Babies in the US?

The FDA is currently gathering evidence to determine the experimental technique’s safety. Framing its meeting as a purely “technical discussion,” the administration isn’t yet discussing the ethical and social policy issues surrounding the genetic modification of embryos. But arguments against messing around with miracle of life are mounting already. One argument suggests it could easily lead to designer babies with customizable eye color, height, and intelligence.

Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society noted that the FDA could be the first organization in the world to allow the intentional genetic modification of children and their descendants. Whereas 40 other countries – including Germany and France – have passed laws banning human genetic changes that can be passed on to future generations.

As a counterpoint, the Oregon Health and Science University presented its successful attempts to create five healthy monkeys using a technique that replaces the defective mitochondrial DNA with that of a healthy donor. In the realm of people, an estimated 1 in 4,000 U.S. children inherit diseases due to mutations in their mitochondrial DNA. Three person embryos could be the key to saving thousands of children from inherited diseases. If the discussions raised this week are any indication, genetic modification has a long road of safety evaluations and ethical debates ahead of it.

Via Gizmodo and the Associated Press

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2 Comments

  1. RelayerM31 February 26, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    This is a whole new level of stupid. Play around with monkeys if you want to but leave humans out of this DNA playhouse.

  2. GreatEmerald GreatEmerald February 26, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I don’t see any alternative to this. Yes, human genetic engineering is an ethical minefield, but all the possible alternatives are even less appealing.

    Business as usual (if the population growth problem gets solved) would result in genetic degradation, as natural selection has been severely weakened by medicine, and without genetic engineering (the only way to truly treat bad gene combinations) we would just have a lot more ill people. Some of such illnesses are an inconvenience more than anything (like balding), but some really affect the quality of life (and some are outright deadly, but those are still affected by natural selection). Under this scenario, the more effects of genetic diseases medicine can treat, the more people have these diseases, the more they rely on medicine and the less productive work they can do. That’s very inefficient, bad for life quality, bad for the economy and bad for the environment (whose resources are needed to treat the effects).

    Another scenario is no bounds, if the population growth continues. Then natural selection would kick in again, as many people would starve and many people would die in wars over the few precious resources still left on the planet. But in the end we have what amounts to a post-apocalyptic world, where everyone’s life is miserable and the environment is pretty much destroyed, with the only hope left being an escape to another planet.

    Yet another scenario is to apply anthropogenic selection, that is, regulate who can have children with who, based on their genetic profiles. That would make a lot of people very upset. And that would be exceedingly difficult to implement before the first scenario happens, to begin with. And in the end you still have genetic engineering, just not as efficient, working slower, and with hard enforced restrictions.

    The last scenario is eugenics, go back to Hitler’s ideas and just kill everyone who has genetic diseases in order to simulate selection. Of course, that’s the worst idea of the lot, with the third scenario, while being harder to implement, being at least a more sane choice.

    So, given the options, genetic engineering is the best option in my opinion. It does have its caveats, definitely (it can end with attempts to create perfect humans, as per the Khan arc of Star Trek TOS) and people trying to select individual traits (with a host of corruption problems), as well as mistakes in the procedure before it’s refined, but I believe we can get through this. Have an ethical codex and laws that only allow fixing known fatal gene combinations (so that without intervention, the baby is as good as dead to begin with) at first, then move upwards from there as the techniques get more refined, and deal with the ethical problems as they arise (it will be a long process, as noted, so there is time to solve them).

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