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Should 3-Person Embryos Go Alive?

Update Date: Feb 04, 2016 12:01 PM EST

Should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve clinical trials to shift DNA from healthy human eggs to affected embryos?

The U.S. National Academy of Medicine believes it should.

This is a divisive gene-therapy technique that will permit supplanting an embryo's mitochondria with healthy ones from the egg of a second woman, reports Scientific American.

Even if the process can prevent DNA mutations from transmitting the illnesses, there is some public worry about the security and safety of mitochondrial replacement and the whole concept of three genetic parents.

There could be a number of problems from incompatible mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from different women. A number of tests on mice, fruit flies and other animals showed that a blend of both forms of DNA from people with diverse genetic makeups will expose the patients to "reduced growth, early death, fast aging and reduced reproductive ability", according to Nature.

"It's unlikely we'll find any cure once the child is born already with these mutations," said Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Sciences University. "The best way is to prevent it."

Some scientists advise that it should be limited to just male embryos, to prevent the inheritance of mitochondria from mothers. If it is found to be safe after an initial testing period, it might have the potential to be transferred to female embryos too.

However, the research won't happen this year, as it is under review by the FDA.

"It is ethically acceptable to go forward, but go slowly and with great caution," said Jeffrey Kahn, a bioethicist at John Hopkins University. "Mitochondrial DNA disease can be extremely devastating, and for the women who are at risk of passing it on to their children, they have no other option by which to pursue having a child that's genetically related to them."

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