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FDA weighs risks of 3-way embryo fertilization

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Published : 2014-02-26 20:13
Updated : 2014-02-27 09:06

Federal health regulators will consider this week whether to green light a provocative new fertilization technique that could eventually create babies from the DNA of three people, with the goal of preventing mothers from passing on debilitating genetic diseases to their children.

The Food and Drug Administration has framed its two-day meeting as a “scientific, technologic and clinical” discussion about how to test the approach in humans. But the technique itself raises a number of ethical questions, including whether the government should sanction the creation of genetically modified humans.

The FDA panel will hear from several prominent critics who oppose any human testing of the approach, arguing that it could be a slippery slope toward “designer babies,” ― in which parents customize traits like eye color, height and intelligence.

But the field‘s leading U.S. researcher will be on hand to explain and defend his work, which he describes as “gene correction,” rather than “gene modification.”

“We want to replace these mutated genes, which by nature have become pathogenic to humans,” says Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who will present on Tuesday. “We’re reversing them back to normal, so I don‘t understand why you would be opposing that.”

The FDA meeting was prompted by Mitalipov’s research at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where he and his staff have produced five healthy monkeys using the DNA-replacement technique. He is seeking FDA approval to begin testing in a handful of women who carry defective genes that can lead to devastating diseases in children, including blindness, organ failure and epilepsy.

An estimated 1 in 5,000 U.S. children inherit such conditions because of defective DNA in their mitochondria, small energy-producing organs found in the cell. Unlike most DNA ― located in the nucleus of the cell ― mitochondrial DNA is passed along only by the mother, not the father. (AP)

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