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Researchers Propose Treatment to Fix Genetic Diseases in Women’s Eggs

Update Date: Oct 09, 2013 05:03 PM EDT
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In a few weeks, the United States government must decide whether or not scientists can study how to fix genetic defects in women's eggs before fertilization. According to two U.S. teams of scientists, changing the genetic material could prevent dangerous and hereditary diseases from being passed down from generation to generation. Even though this proposal could save a lot of future babies from fatal defects, changing the genetic material of an egg raises many ethical issues.

"We have developed a technique that would allow a woman to have a child that is not affected by this disease, and yet the child would be related to her genetically," commented Dieter Egli from the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

The major concern behind approving this new type of medical technology is the risk of creating a designer baby market. If the federal government allows scientists to tamper with genetic material, what scientists get to tamper with and what they will not could become blurred. This could then tempt parents and scientists to create babies based solely on physical appearance and desirable traits.

The research involves creating an egg that would contain healthy mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Since around one in every 200 women has a defect in her mtDNA, between one in every 2000 and one in every 4000 babies will have some genetic defect. When these defects manifest, there is usually no effective treatment for the sick child, who most likely will end up dying due to the defect.

The researchers would take eggs from women who are considered to be high risk of giving birth to children with genetic defects. They would then take out all of the genes with the exception of the healthy mtDNA. This mtDNA material is then combined to the egg of the other woman, which contains her DNA. This egg would first get stripped of all its genes as well except for the healthy mtDNA. The egg would then be fertilized with the sperm in a laboratory setting before it is placed back into the woman's womb.

"We're reading to move on to the next stage and to transplant the embryos we have created this way into a patient," stated Shoukhrat Mitalipov from Oregon Health and Science University.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will consider the issues surrounding this type of research on Oct. 22.

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