Three Parents? FDA Mulls Safety of Embryo Technique
- WASHINGTON — Genetic experts cautioned the federal government Tuesday that it could take decades to confirm the safety of an experimental fertilization technique that would create babies from the DNA of three people, with the aim of preventing children from inheriting some debilitating diseases.
The Food and Drug Administration heard from supporters and opponents of the provocative technique at a two-day meeting, as the agency considers whether to greenlight testing in women who have defective genes linked to blindness, organ failure and many other inheritable diseases.
Preliminary testing in animals suggests that combining the DNA of two parents with that of a third female donor could allow prospective mothers to give birth to healthy children. But even experts in the field warned that researchers would have to follow the offspring for many years to see if they are truly healthy.
- Procedure could prevent children from inheriting genetic diseases from mothers
- by Maggie Fox
Is it designer babies or a way for parents to have healthy children?
A panel of Food and Drug Administration officials is finishing up a meeting on Wednesday asking whether an experimental technique using eggs and sperm from three adults is safe to try in humans.
The FDA advisers are not looking at the ethical implications, but whether the science is solid enough to justify trying the process in people. The goal would be to allow people to have babies free of horrific and untreatable mitochondrial diseases, and perhaps also to help some older women have babies if their own eggs are no longer fully healthy.
…“In my mind, it’s not eugenics,” said Phil Yeske, chief science officer for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. “It’s affording potential for women affected by mitochondrial disease to have a healthy child.”
Scientists have been tinkering for years with the approach, which uses parts of the egg cells of two females, and the sperm from a male to create an embryo. It’s been done a few times in monkeys to create healthy offspring and now some researchers would like permission to try with humans.
Fertility specialist Dr. Jamie Grifo of New York University tried one technique in the 1990s to help older women conceive healthy children using IVF techniques and the healthy eggs donated by younger women, but the FDA asked him to stop
About two dozen children were born using various approaches, the FDA says, and at least three of them had developmental disorders including Turner syndrome, a genetic conditon in which a female doesn’t have the usual pair of two X chromosomes. But FDA says it’s hard to tell whether the IVF technique is what caused the problems.
Taiwanese scientists tried another method, using a woman’s own healthy mitochondria, and reported 20 babies were born in 2004. But they haven’t reported on how healthy those children are today, FDA says.
It’s an important question, said Michigan State University’s Keith Latham. “The end of the experiment will come decades later,” Latham told the committee hearing. “It’s going to take us that long to figure out the health of the progeny produced from these procedures.”
The committee will not come to a decision this week, and the FDA isn’t due to decide any time soon, either. Hearings like this are designed to gather information and to get people thinking and asking questions.
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