Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Genetically Modified Babies
A process known as "mitochondrial manipulation technology" was discussed by the Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapy Advisory Committee, part of the FDA, in 2014. In general, germ line gene therapy is a highly controversial topic, making research and advances in this field difficult in some areas on the world. For some, they believe that the creation of new life is a sacred process that should not be tampered with. Others point the risks and possibility of devastation if errors are made within humans. In theory, mitochondrial manipulation technologies could make mitochondrial diseases a thing of the past. This technique is especially interesting and controversial because it requires the use of genetic material from three parents in the creation of a child. Because mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother, this technique focuses on the transfer of DNA from one egg to another, to provide an egg with healthy mitochondria for the future child. In an informative New York Times article the process is described as one that consists of "removing the nuclear material either from the egg or embryo of a woman with inheritable mitochondrial disease and inserting it into a healthy egg or embryo of a donor whose own nuclear material has been discarded". The article notes that 1,000-4,000 children are born annually with mitochondrial diseases that are potentially devastating and without a cure. Unfortunately, the research done at Oregon Health and Science University raises many questions about the current technology in mitochondrial manipulation. In trials with macaque monkeys, five successful offspring were produced and future research will be done to see how these manipulations will affect future generations. However, in trials with human zygotes, mutations and other developmental abnormalities were seen that were absent from the trials with macaque monkeys. The sensitivity of human embryos makes me wary of the use of this technique until more successful methods are developed. Overall, I think that this is an interesting method for mothers to avoid passing mitochondrial disease to her children. Without further research, I know that it would be impossible to attempt to use this technique to make mitochondrial diseases preventable. Since this discussion, new news on the topic is few and far between. England continued mitochondrial manipulation research and in 2015 they passed a law, allowing fertility clinics to use this technology. With the continued interest in this area of research in Europe, I hope that they can fine tune their mitochondrial manipulation techniques so that they will be safer, more effective and that their success will make skeptics more willing to accept this groundbreaking technology.