Making embryos from three people doesn't look unsafe

June 3, 2014 by Maria Cheng
Human Embryo. Credit: Ed Uthman, MD/Wikipedia

Britain's fertility regulator says controversial techniques to create embryos from the DNA of three people "do not appear to be unsafe" even though no one has ever received the treatment, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The report based its conclusion largely on and some and called for further experiments before patients are treated.

"Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe," said Dr. Andy Greenfield, who chaired the expert panel behind the report.

The techniques are meant to stop mothers from passing on potentially fatal to their babies and involve altering a or embryo before transferring it into a woman. Such methods have only been allowed for research in a laboratory, but the U.K. department of health has said it hopes new legislation will be in place by the end of the year that allows treatment of patients.

If approved, Britain would become the first country in the world to allow embryos to be genetically modified this way.

Critics have described the research as unethical and warn the novel technology has unknown dangers.

"Safety is not a straightforward issue," Greenfield said, comparing the ongoing debate to qualms about in vitro fertilization in the 1970s before the first was born.

Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society in the U.S., warned that allowing embryos to be created this way might lead to a slippery slope and tempt scientists and parents to use the techniques to create designer babies with certain traits.

Experts say that if approved, these new methods would likely be used in about a dozen British women every year, who are known to have faulty mitochondria—the energy-producing structures outside a cell's nucleus. Defects in the mitochondria's genetic code can result in diseases such as muscular dystrophy, heart problems and mental retardation.

The techniques involve removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother and inserting it into a donor egg, where the nucleus DNA has been removed. That can be done either before or after fertilization.

The resulting embryo would end up with the nucleus DNA from its parents but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Scientists say the DNA from the amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo's genes. But the change will be passed onto future generations, a major genetic modification that many scientists and ethicists have been loath to endorse.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a meeting to discuss the techniques and scientists warned it could take decades to determine if they are safe.

Related Stories

UK group: New embryo methods should be allowed

June 11, 2012

(AP) — An influential British bioethics group says that couples who face the risk of having a baby with certain genetic diseases should be allowed to use eggs from two women to produce the embryo.

US scientists make embryos with 2 women, 1 man

October 24, 2012

(AP)—Scientists in the U.S. have created embryos with genes from one man and two women, using a provocative technique that someday could be used to prevent babies from inheriting certain rare incurable diseases.

UK: Public OK with creating babies from three people

March 20, 2013

Britain's fertility regulator says it has found broad public support for in vitro fertilization techniques that allow babies to be created with DNA from three people for couples at risk of passing on potentially fatal genetic ...

UK may OK creating babies with DNA from 3 people

June 27, 2013

(AP)—Britain may allow a controversial technique to create babies using DNA from three people, a move that would help couples avoid passing on rare genetic diseases, the country's top medical officer says.

US weighs unknowns of 3-person embryo technique

February 24, 2014

(AP)—Genetic experts cautioned the U.S. 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 ...

UK to consult on draft rules for 3-parent embryos

February 27, 2014

(AP)—Britain is inviting the public to weigh in on draft rules allowing scientists to create embryos using DNA from three people—a man and two women—to prevent mothers from passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases.

Recommended for you

Does mom's cellphone startle the fetus?

May 6, 2015

(HealthDay)—The sounds emitted by cellphones carried by pregnant women may rattle the sleep-and-wake cycles of their fetuses, new research suggests.

New IVF device may improve fertility treatment

April 28, 2015

For couples struggling to conceive the old-fashioned way, in vitro fertilization (IVF) provides an alternate route to starting a family. When eggs are mixed with sperm in test tubes, the fertilized eggs to grow into embryos ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.