We see it everywhere; the crunchy panic around genetically modified corn, peas, and drought resistant lettuce. It makes the news about quarterly. Whenever a company is discovered using fragments of algae DNA for the disturbing crime of pesticide-free crops. The information can be public knowledge or a company secret but it’s always treated as the latter. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) such as beans, corn, and tomatoes pose precisely no threat to human health. But the bigger risk of all of this gene editing in strawberries is that it is starting to move into the realm of human genetics. GMOs are all fine with food products, but when it enters the womb, it smells suspiciously of eugenics.
In 2016, a woman gave birth to the first ever baby with three parents. Yes, you read that correctly. After a Jordanian couple lost two children to the fatal Leigh Syndrome, a disease in the mitochondrial DNA, they sought out Professor John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York, who worked on the case in Mexico due to legal complications in his home country.
The DNA of Three Parents
Soon after, the scientist set out to produce a healthy baby for the two. But interestingly, the solution actually came from the inclusion of a third. With a process called pronuclear transfer, Zhang injected healthy mitochondria from a female donor into the mother’s egg cell. Then, he fertilized the egg and sperm, creating a genetically unique human being from three parents and their DNA.
Two years later, that child is over a year old and living a healthy life. And the mother, who believed herself to be effectively infertile due to the fatal disease she carries, is raising her own, growing baby boy.
The genetic makeup of the boy is mostly that of the two parents. Of the over 20,000 genes found in the egg cell, only 37 of them are present in the mitochondria. Thus, replacing a damaged mitochondrion with a healthy one from another woman only inputs 37 of the donor’s genes into the baby.
Not long after the Mexican success story, a number of scientists from across the globe sought to reproduce the effects. By doing so, they believed they could help women with severe mitochondrial diseases be able to still have children.
Increased Awareness and Success
Most notably, efforts began in the United Kingdom and Ukraine. In fact, Doctor Valery Zukin, head of the Ukraine based Nadiya Clinic, boasts to have already helped create four babies in this method. He believes that his efforts are helpful to humanity, especially those who are not able to have their own children.
Zukin is likely talking about the countries, including the United States, that have banned the practice. In 2017, the FDA warned against the practice, stating they must run their own clinical trial before legalizing it. In a letter to Zhang, they declared that he may not continue his practices in the U.S.
Such actions have clearly not stopped Zhang, who now partners with Zukin in their joint company, DL-Nadiya. Zukin claims that through his institute, he now has three more pregnancies.
Across the continent, United Kingdom researchers today are in the process. This year, the U.K.’s Human Fertilisation and Embreology Authority (HFEA) approved two cases for Newcastle’s Fertility Center at Life to undertake.
This move marks the first time that a country officially sanctions this procedure. In the United States, the law forced the action south of the border. Zukin, on the other hand, has yet to face either approval or rejection from the Ukranian government.
These two British babies may be born to three parents as early as this year. Though they will not be the first to be born in this manner, it appears they also will be far from the last.
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By Casey Ward | United States
People’s choice to modify their body is theirs alone. Body modification has been around for thousands of years and as technology advances so to do our methods. We started by giving piercings and tattoos but today we have implants, reconstructive surgery and now gene therapy. The government still tries to regulate the old methods even today. Yet, with gene editing on the rise, we cannot allow the government to control this.
Families around the world are supporting the movement, betting on gene therapy in hopes that it will cure a long list of rare diseases that plague their children. But throughout time, the FDA has made effective treatments harder to get. For example, take the case of Barry Marshall. He and his partner discovered inflammatory bacteria which led to ulcers and stomach cancer. However, Dr. Marshall was not allowed to treat this infection without years of studies while people were dying, so he drank infected broth. When he developed ulcers, they were prepared with a cure, proving him right and saving people from agony. Today we see this same trend in gene therapy. People are dying and in need of a cure, while others dictate the use of this technology.
The government has no right to impose what they see as morally right upon others. The regressive policies of the U.S. will leave us behind in the end. When debating the legality of such policies the supreme court’s take years that patients don’t have in order to decide what is ethically right. Coupled with the long history of governments committing their own atrocities, they lose credibility. Even big pharma is backing gene therapy as a cheaper way to cure rare diseases which become more common as people age.
Gene therapy is one of our best ways of extending life. With people like Elizabeth Parrish of BioViva pushing the limits by going around the FDA to be “patient zero” in gene editing in the attempt to extend her life. The benefits of gene therapy should be available to everyone if they choose to.
Whether trying to cure rare diseases or extend life, in no case should it be the government’s choice.