Science & Technology Law

Three-parent in vitro mulled by FDA panel; critics fear possibility of 'designer babies'

A technique in which scientists combine DNA from three people to remove genetic mutations got a hearing on Tuesday before a panel of the Food and Drug Administration.

At issue during the two-day hearing is whether to allow human trials of the in vitro fertilization technique, dubbed “three-parent IVF,” report the Washington Post and Reuters. It works this way, the Post says: Doctors take a mother’s egg, keeping most of the DNA and replacing defective mitochondria with mitochondria from another woman. The father’s sperm is then used to fertilize the egg, which is implanted in the mother. The effects of the modification would be passed along to subsequent generations.

The technique has been used in monkeys, producing five healthy offspring. A different technique was used in 2001, but the FDA put a stop to it amid the controversy, according to the Post. More than a dozen babies were born using that prior technique, which combined parts of healthy eggs with the eggs of infertile women, Reuters says.

Critics fear three-parent IVF could be used to create “designer babies” with characteristics such as high intelligence or a certain eye color. More than 40 countries have passed laws or signed treaties that would ban DNA modifications that can be inherited, the Post says. In Britain, however, regulations allowing the technique will be drafted, authorities have said, and the issue is expected to be considered by Parliament this year.

Panel chairman Evan Snyder said during the meeting that he doubts panel members will recommend human trials before more questions are answered about the safety of the procedure, the Post says. “There’s overall great concern for the well-being of these kids,” he said. He added, however, that the research “is incredibly intriguing and in some ways very promising.”

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