Researchers in Britain may be the first group to get approval to offer genetically altered embryos to families who want to prevent inherited, incurable diseases from being passed on to their children. Critics are afraid that this could be a step towards “designer babies.”
The treatment is presently at the research stage in Britain and the United States. It will allow genetically modified embryos to be implanted into women. These procedures have been tested in labs but not on humans.
The treat which is known as “three parent fertility” treatment because it includes the sperm, the defective nuclear DNA from the mother and a healthy donor’s Mitochondrial DNA.
The process involves interfering in the natural fertilization process to remove defective mitochondrial DNA, which could cause inherited fatal health disorders such as heart problems, liver failure, neurological disorders, eye disorders and muscular disorders.
Presently, one in 6500 children worldwide are affected by mitochondrial disease. This procedure will help families who face the probability of passing down these incurable diseases to their children.
Mitochondrial is called the power house of cells because it is the energy source for cells. Mitochondrial in humans is inherited from the mother.
“Scientist have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their children from inheriting them, “ Sally Davies, chief medical officer said.
“It is only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”
According to Dr. David King, director of Human Genetics Alert Campaign group, the techniques are extreme and their use is ethically unsound. He also criticized the government for not fully disclosing information to the public for a more comprehensive public consultation.
In an emailed statement he accuses them of crossing an ethical line that governments around the world agreed should not be crossed, genetically altering human beings.
Critics are concerned because they are afraid that once modifying embryos is allowed to circumvent disease, the next step will be the creation of “designer babies,” modifying genetic makeup to ensure certain traits such as height and hair color.
Subsequently, Davies argues that the government’s health department is drafting regulations to cover the new treatments and plans to release them later this year.
The approval of this new technique will make Britain the first country to allow parents the option of altering Mitochondrial DNA to prevent defective DNA from being passed on and causing incurable diseases in their child, the technique is called DNA swap.
Among the groups of scientists researching several of the three-parent in-vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques that will be used for this procedure, Britain’s Newcastle University has developed one known as pronuclear transfer which swap DNA between two fertilized human eggs. Another called maternal spindle transfer, swap DNA between the mother’s egg and a donor egg before fertilization.
Last year, a British medical ethics panel reviewed the prospective treatments for mitochondrial disease and decided they were ethical and gave their approval for continued research, provided evidence shows that it is safe and effective.
“Once you have crossed that crucial ethical line of not manipulating genetically human beings, then it is very hard to go back and avoid slipping down that slippery slope,” Dr. David King, said.
According to other reports, the Pro-life campaigners have also criticized these techniques. They believe creating embryonic children in a lab is abuse and subjecting them to unnatural processes.
While the arguments on both sides are convincing, the question is could it lead to a craze and once approved is it possible that people will abuse it and start creating “designer babies.”
By: Veverly Edwards