Washington – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded on Wednesday that clinical investigations of an innovative form of genetic engineering that could prevent congenital diseases by creating babies with genetic material from three parents should be permitted, given certain conditions.
Mitochondrial replacement technique or (MRTs), which is how scientists call this procedure, is designed to satisfy a desire of women seeking to have a genetically related child without the risk of passing on a disease. However, the technique carries some significant ethical and social issues.
First of all, mitochondrial replacement would create babies with genetic material from two women and one man which brings the concern of resulting in psychological and social effects on the offspring, including issues about their conception of identity, the committee reported. Furthermore, the manipulation performed on eggs or embryos would affect every cell of the resulting baby, and once carried out this genetic manipulation, it is not reversible.
Last year, Great Britain became the first country to allow the use of a fertility technique to create embryos by swapping a mother’s defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy genetic material from a donor egg, but the U.S. has not allowed the procedure yet.
Two groups of scientists in New York and Oregon to conduct the experiments requested permission from the FDA to give a green light to the technique. The FDA then requested the prestigious Institute of Medicine to discuss the matter.
On Wednesday, the 12-member bioethics panel assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released a 164-page report explaining it is ethical to do such research if initial experiments follow certain strict safety steps, which included limiting the tastes to women who have a high risk of passing on a severe disease.
Before the procedure could be performed in one of these mothers, scientists would have to perform extensive preliminary research in the laboratory and with animals to try to make sure it is safe. Then researchers should initially try to make only male babies, because men are not capable of passing genetic diseases.
Mark Sauer, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, who is a member of one of the teams, said the report was more of a yellow light than a green light, because of the long list of warnings and cautions. “But that is better than a red light,” he added.
“Most importantly to us is that it allows the work to continue to hopefully produce children without these disorders,” Sauer says.
Another revolutionary technique, known as CRISPR was also discussed in the same building two months ago. Scientists from across the globe gathered to hash out guidelines for the use of this technique which can efficiently edit nuclear DNA genes. Earlier this week, British officials announced that they will use CRISPR to study the development of early-stage human embryos, but the embryos will not be implanted in women.