‘Designer’ babies may soon be made legal in UK

Health: Germline therapy,gene alteration in eggs or sperm,is banned in most countries

Written by Press Trust Of India | London | Published: September 18, 2012 1:24 am

The creation of genetically-modified “designer” babies to carry healthy DNA from a third biological parent could be legalised in the UK next year.

A law change would allow for children to be “designed” in order to be free of horrific diseases. The children would effectively have two mothers and one father and the technique could lead to the creation of designer babies,made to order by hair or eye colour.

Germline therapy,or the alteration of genes in eggs or sperm,is banned in most countries,the Daily Mail reported.

“We find ourselves in uncharted territory,balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society,” Lisa Jardine,of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority,a government watchdog,said.

Serious defects affect around one in 6,500 babies and cause around 50 genetic diseases,many of which kill in infancy. These conditions are caused by defects in the DNA of mitochondria – the tiny,sausage-shaped powerhouses inside cells that turn food into energy.

Newcastle University scientists are developing two techniques in which the mother-to-be’s diseased mitochondria are swapped for healthy ones from an egg donated by another woman.

Successful mitochondrial replacement would eliminate the disease from future generations of the family,while allowing the couple to have children that are genetically their own.

Any child would also have a small amount of DNA from the woman who donated the egg but it is not thought this would affect looks or personality.

“We want to make a difference to the lives of our patients who live with mitochondrial diseases,” Professor Mary Herbert,one of the researchers behind the technique,said.

The treatment is currently banned in Britain but the law contains a clause allowing it to be amended quickly. The results of the consultation,requested by the government,could trigger a Parliamentary vote that leads to the treatment being legalised as early as next year.

Critics,however,think it is wrong to tamper with the sanctity of life.

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