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Creating Healthier Babies by Genetic Manipulation. Should We Do It?

Posted by S. Fenella Das Gupta, Ph.D., Neuroscience on with 0 Comments

by S. Fenella Das Gupta, Ph.D., Neuroscience

Many diseases occur as a result of mutations occurring in a particular gene. Some of these mutations can be passed on to future generations. But right now, scientists are working on a particular protocol that could potential eradicate certain diseases forever.

Can you imagine a world without fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular weakness? All of this is potential possible.

These diseases brought into question include a whole range of mitochondrial diseases and related disorders. If the protocol gets the green light, certain conditions and disorders have the potential to become obsolete, sparing future generations from a host of rare and debilitating conditions.

Mitochondrial illnesses are maternally inherited as the mitochondrial genome is (only) carried in the egg and not in the sperm. So if there’s a genetic mutation on the mitochondrial genome, then this defect is passed from mother to child, resulting in a range of mitochondrial diseases- mostly incurable and afflicting about 1 in 200 children born each year.

The three parent in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure is being developed and designed to help families from passing on these defective mitochondrial genomes to their offspring. Eggs from the mother, eggs from a female donor and sperm from the father are needed. Hence the term “three parent IVF”.

How does the protocol work? There are several protocols being developed, but two that are gaining some momentum are pronuclear transfer and maternal spindle transfer.

For an easy overview of how these procedures work refer to the pronuclear transfer and  the spindle transfer for a  step by step diagram outline.

Overall, the resulting embryo and child would inherit their genes (and identity) from their mother and father, and that of a female donor (her mitochondrial DNA).

Although the resulting babies would inherit only a small fraction of their DNA from the donor as 37 genes alone are located in the mitochondria, these changes would affect the germ line in all future generations, forever.  That has got people talking.

Although the treatment option is only at research stage in certain university labs in Britain and the United States, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was asked by the British government to "take the public temperature on this important and emotive issue" stated Professor Lisa Jardine, the chair of HFEA.

 The public consultation launched in Britain on 17th September 2012, asks the question should "three-parent" fertility treatments be made available to avoid passing on incurable disease?

In other words, just because we can, should we?

"We find ourselves in unchartered territory, balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society….. If this is allowed, it has consequences in perpetuity” ….Immediately alter the nature of society to all eternity" Jardine stated in her release.

This public debate is extremely important and HFEA want to hear from everyone on this matter. The consultation on the HFEA website at www.hfea.gov.uk  is open to anyone.

Contributors are asked to consider a variety of issues related to concepts of identity; how this will affect future generations; safety; the rights of the donor; and who should decide who can access the treatments. The public consultation will run until December 7 and you can explore these issues and weigh in with your views. Now is your chance.

In addition, there will also be two public events held in London and Manchester where people can learn about the technique and register their views.

The result of a survey of 800 people by the Progress Educational Trust found that two thirds supported the use of the technique while a third opposed it, and a report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics last year claimed the approach would be ethical and safe.

But some pro-life campaigners have already criticized the scientific research. Concerns about creating embryonic children by subjecting them to unnatural processes raises ethical questions. Others worry that modifying embryos to avoid disease could be the first step towards the creation of "designer babies". Questions of “what will this lead to?” are raised.

If the British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt decides to give the treatment the go ahead, the technique could be written into law as early as next year making Britain the first country in the world to allow human trials.

So, should we or shouldn’t we? And why?

Fenella Das Gupta is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist ( #47275) working in Northern California,specializing in fertility counseling. She works with individuals and couples as they make their way through the fertility maze. The other part of her work includes making fertility issues a newsworthy item, as she writes for the Petaluma Patch-a subsidiary of the Huffington Post. To read more about fertility issues in the news go to http://petaluma.patch.com/users/fenella-das-gupta-phd-neuroscience-mft/blog_posts

 

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