There has been a scientific breakthrough study at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) that may remove mutations like hereditary blindness or maternal diabetes from future generations. This scientific breakthrough poses great ethical questions as well as potential for amazing cures. According to Marcy Darnovksy of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society, “These powerful new technologies have a whole bunch of wonderful and appropriate uses—and a number of ways they can be misused.”
Nick Budnick of the Huffington Post claims, “the new technique is also one short step from genetic design of future generations.” The research was led by biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov. They modified unfertilized eggs for the first time, and this technique is part of research that is banned in many countries.
Three years ago, Mitalipov performed experiments in which he created monkeys with genetic material from three parents. His team of researches has now done this with human cells, “setting the stage for possible experiments with humans,” according to Budnick.
Mitochondrial DNA is the small part of the cell that turns food into energy, and the research performed by Mitalipov’s team deal with this mitochondrial DNA. Dementia and nervous system disorders such as Leigh disease can occur from mitochondrial disorders.
Wednesday, October 24, the journal Nature published a study in which the OHSU team described successfully transferring DNA from donor cells into other donor cells. This fertilized the eggs to create 13 tiny early embryos of roughly 100 cells each. These pre-embryos are called blastocysts, and they were converted to embryonic stem cells for future research.
According to Mitalipov, mitochondrial DNA is different from the nucleus DNA that determines physical traits, intelligence, and personality. The United Kingdom has pronounced this kind of research ethical, and the OHSU research was sanctioned by an internal review board.
Although the US does not allow federal funding for this kind of research, it is permitted, unlike in many other countries. OHSU, however, contributed over $500,000 toward the research, and the LeDucq Foundation in France contributed $150,000. This sort of ethically questionable research is highly controversial, and critics say the OHSU technique needs rigorous and lengthy examination. According to Darnovsky, “replacing mitochondrial DNA is not that far from replacing DNA in the cell’s nucleus—leading to the highly controversial possibility of ‘designer babies.’” People are worried this new discovery and form of scientific research will lead to more ethically questionable research in the near future.