Scientists call for halt on experiments involving modification of DNA in human eggs, sperms or embryos after rumours surfaced that scientists have managed to do so in America. Five prominent researchers have asked biologists to halt such experiments due to fears about safety and eugenics.
Edward Lanphier, president and chief executive officer of California-based Sangamo BioSciences Inc, and senior author of the commentary published in the science journal Nature call for a self-imposed research moratorium as the work crosses an ethical line. “Humans are not rats or other (experimental) organisms, and this is not something we want to do,” Lanphier said in an interview with Reuters quotes Zee News. “The research should stop.”
The demand for culling of such experiments came after there were reports that American scientists have attempted to modify the DNA of human egg cells using a new gene-editing technique dubbed Crispr (pronounced “Crisper”) that could eliminate inherited diseases thereby freeing subsequent generations from such disorders.
According to The Independent, researchers edited the DNA in ovary cells taken from a woman with inherited ovarian cancer to investigate the possibility of eventually using gene-editing to produce IVF embryos free of the familial disease. The results of the experiment are yet to be published.
Editing the chromosomes of human eggs or sperm to create genetically modified IVF embryos is illegal in Britain and many other countries because of concerns about safety and the possibility of the technique being used to create genetically enhanced “designer babies”.
Rumours about such experiments have been circulating the web for quite some time now and critics of the work say that such experiments could be used to try to alter the genetic quality of humans, a practice and belief known as eugenics.
The Independent’s report comes just days after there was a report on Technology Review that DNA altering methods “a kind of search-and-replace tool to alter DNA, even down to the level of a single letter” have already been planned or put into practice.
According to Lanphier, who is also the chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington DC, “Such research could be exploited for non-therapeutic modifications” and a “public outcry about such an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development.”
Lanphier added that genome-editing can itself introduce DNA errors and “the precise effects of genetic modification to an embryo may be impossible to know until after birth. Even then, potential problems may not surface for years.”
Other scientists however disagree with the call to stop the research. They agree that there is a need for a wide discussion of the safety and ethics of editing embryos and reproductive cells, but they say that the research must go on as it holds the potential of eliminating inherited diseases.
Genome-editing is being developed to treat HIV/AIDS, some forms of cancer, and other illnesses by altering genes in, say, adults` white blood cells. Sangamo is conducting clinical trials of genome editing as a cure for HIV/AIDS that would allow patients to stop taking antiretroviral drugs.
If a lab created a designer baby using genome-editing, the resulting “public outcry” could “hinder a promising area of therapeutic development,” Lanphier and his co-authors warned.