New Three-Parent Procedure Sparks Fears of ‘Designer Babies’

Wednesday, 03 Apr 2013 01:37 PM

By Lisa Barron

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Fertility regulators in the UK have advised the British government there is no evidence that a radical form of in-vitro fertilization called “mitochondrial replacement” is unsafe, paving the way for scientists to proceed with the controversial technique.

Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority also said there is widespread public support for the advanced form of gene therapy, in which babies are created using cellular material from three people to prevent disease that could be transmitted by the birth mother, reported Al Jazeera.

Authority chairwoman Lisa Jardine said that although people expressed some safety concerns, “we found that they trust the scientific experts and the regulator to know when it is appropriate to make them available to patients.”

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But critics oppose the move on ethical grounds, arguing that such manipulation of genes would lead to the creation of so-called “designer babies.”

The proposed therapy would be used on women whose egg cells contain harmful mitochondria, components of body cells that provide them with energy but if defective can lead to afflictions including blindness, deafness, epilepsy, heart failure and early death.

The treatment would remove the nucleus and chromosomes from a donated egg while leaving its healthy mitochondria. The nucleus from the egg of an affected woman would then be inserted into it, either before or after fertilization, and implanted in the mother’s womb.

Although the process has not been fully developed, scientists in both Britain and the U.S. are reportedly close to reaching the point where it can be performed.

In its report, according to Al Jazeera, HFEA acknowledged that “some participants suggested that the use of these techniques might be seen as ‘playing God’ and could result in a ‘slippery slope’ to ‘designer babies’ and ‘aborting disabled people.’”

Stuart Newman, professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College, told the media outlet that “this could turn into a form of consumer genetics,” adding, “Once the door is open to using genetic manipulation to alter the biological properties of future people, who’s to rule on whether what those involved want is a necessity or a frivolous characteristic?”

He said that the technique’s potential commercial value may be swaying the UK regulators to support it.

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