With gene editing now presenting such low risks that it can be used in human embryos, genetically-modified babies aren’t just the tales of science fiction. According to a newly published scientific paper, such “designer babies” are “ethically justifiable”, “highly desirable” and could become a possibility in about two years’ time.
Dr Kevin Smith, a bioethicist from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, recently published an analysis on gene editing in the journal Bioethics. His paper claims that the risks of gene editing are now low enough to justify its use with human embryos, in order to prevent the transmission of gene-related diseases.
Dr Smith, the programme leader for Abertay’s Biomedical Science courses, said that current and further research into gene editing should offer hope to parents who are at risk of transmitting serious genetic diseases to any future children.
According to modern genetic studies, most human diseases that are genetic are the result of actions of several genes. Genetic modification is the only way to eliminate the genes that bring about those diseases.
Dr Smith said: “The human germline is by no means perfect, with evolution having furnished us with rather minimal protection from diseases that tend to strike in our later years, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.
“GM techniques offer the prospect of protecting future people against these and other common disorders. This has previously been achieved to an extent in GM experiments on animals.
“If several common disorders could be avoided or delayed by genetically modifying humans, the average disease-free lifespan could be substantially extended.”
According to Dr Smith, humanity will benefit from the creation of genetically-modified people, provided that the issue is dealt with in an ethical manner, as public opinion on the controversial subject is mixed at best.
“Society is largely opposed to genetically modifying humans, and the negative publicity generated by the ethically problematic first-ever production of GM babies in China last year was strongly criticised by most geneticists and ethicists, further hardening attitudes against the creation of so-called ‘designer babies’.
“However, by delaying an ethically-sound move towards a world where we can reduce genetic disease, we are failing those who suffer through disease and debilitating conditions.
“If such negative attitudes to biomedical innovation had prevailed in the 1970s, the development and use of IVF – a massively beneficial medical technology – would have been severely delayed, and indeed might never have come to fruition,” said Dr Smith.
According to CNN, Joyce Harper of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Women’s Health told the Science Media Centre (SMC) in London that she does not believe that there are “adequate experiments that will ‘prove’ that this technology is safe”.