Scientists received cautious approval from an influential panel today for research that could treat some serious diseases, but also create embryos with DNA from three people.
A 164-page report from the panel provides an outline of how scientists could ethically pursue the controversial research, according to NPR. The panel, assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, included elite bioethicists and scientists, according to The Washington Post.
The research could eventually be used to treat certain serious congenital diseases that are passed from mother to child through small amounts of genetic material, according to the Post. The new therapy would make it possible to replace affected portions of the mother’s DNA with donated DNA from another woman.
The Food and Drug Administration asked for the report after groups of researchers in New York and Oregon sought permission to conduct experiments involving the new techniques, according to NPR.
The panel recommended that the procedures be used rarely, with extreme care and with strong government oversight, The Post said. They should also be applied only to male embryos at first.
That guideline would prevent the introduction of unwanted genetic changes in future generations, according to the Post. The alterations caused by the therapy in males wouldn’t be passed on, the paper said.
Scientists would also have to perform extensive preliminary research on animals first, to make sure the techniques were safe, according to NPR.
Despite the favorable recommendation from the panel, it’s uncertain whether the research will proceed.
A statement from the FDA noted that aspects of current federal law mean the research cannot be performed in the U.S., according to NPR.
Critics of the research said it’s not worth the risk, NPR said.
The fear is that genetic errors could be accidentally introduced, leading to new diseases. Critics also worry the research could open the door to creating designer babies, NPR said.
The panel’s report explores the issues the affected babies would eventually have to confront, the Post said. An individual with genetic material from two different maternal bloodlines would no doubt wrestle with serious questions about identity, kinship and ancestry.
The disorders the research seeks to treat affect only a small number of women and they range from mild to severe, according to NPR. In many cases there is no treatment and the affected child dies early after suffering progressive, debilitating symptoms.
The British government recent approved experiments involving the new techniques in that country, NPR said.
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