Genes can be modified to prevent serious diseases from being passed on to the next generation, a new report by two leading science institutions in the United States has recommended. Researchers from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine have, however, cautioned against the misuse of the procedure, and recommended stringent monitoring of any such trials conducted in the future, reported The Guardian.
The ethics of genetically modifying embryos have been widely contested. The report, too, called the process “highly contentious” as the modified genes will be passed on to the generations to come. “The technology would therefore cross a line many have viewed as ethically inviolable,” said the senior researchers. The scientists noted that the procedure still requires more research before it can be used for clinical trials, but added that it should not be ruled out as an option, though only in exceptional cases.
One of the scientists who prepared the report said the genes should be modified only if there is no other option to have a healthy baby. “There is an enormous amount of research that has to go into this, and then the question is what are the conditions where you would even consider it, and those are very tightly defined,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a member of the report committee and professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The editing of genes is barred in the United Kingdom. However, the country’s laws allow a procedure called mitochondrial transfer that prevents women from passing on genetic diseases to their babies. The United States has yet to allow clinical trials for “germline therapy”. However, the restriction will lapse in April 2017.