Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues

News Brief by Catie Donlon

Scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation have been studying ways to alter mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in egg cells in hopes to cure diseases and allow mothers to have their own babies. Mitochondrial DNA is genetic material found in mitochondria, which are the organelles that are responsible for producing energy for the rest of the cell. Mitochondrial DNA is different from DNA found in nuclei because it carries a unique set of genes and is always inherited from the mother. Therefore, when there are defects in a mother’s mtDNA, all of her children will also be affected. Unfortunately, defects present in mtDNA often cause diseases that rarely have treatments. As a result these mothers are advised to not have any children of their own. 
 Dieter Egli, one of the scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation, explains that these mothers can indeed have children if scientists alter these women’s eggs. In the first step of this alteration, the DNA from the mother is extracted from the egg, and then it is implanted into a donor’s egg that contains healthy mtDNA. Then the egg that has the mother’s DNA and donor’s mtDNA can be fertilized in the lab with the father’s sperm to create a viable and unaffected embryo. This embryo can then be implanted into the uterine lining of the mother to produce a healthy baby. Researchers in Oregon have been successful in producing healthy baby monkeys using the same technique.
However, altering eggs is controversial because it could later lead to people creating “designer babies” through genetic engineering. It must also be remembered that changing an egg not only affects that one possible child, but it also affects subsequent generations.

Reference: Stein, Rob. "Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues." NPR. NPR, 9 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
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