World’s First Healthy Babies Born from Genetically Altered DNA

September 2, 2012 in Science, Top News

Image of a Healthy Newborn at IRMS St Barnabas

Image of a Healthy Newborn at IRMS St Barnabas. Source: IRMS St Barnabas.

At the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St. Barnabas in New Jersey, successful results have been announced from a program of experiments to create healthy babies from genetically altered DNA. In the last three years, 15 such children have been born under one experimental program at the institute. That’s among 30 such designed babies in the United States.

Professor Jacques Cohen, regarded as a brilliant but controversial fertility pioneer, carried out the underlying experimental research. It was intended to enable women who are unable to bear children due to defects in their egg-cell mitochondria. In the Human Reproduction journal, Institute researchers led by Cohen report this as the first case of successful human germ line genetic modifications leading to “normal healthy children” .

Institute researchers followed a procedure by which donor eggs containing healthy mitochondria were extracted and injected into the eggs of infertile women. Babies successfully conceived as a result bear DNA from both women, as well as the male, and therefore their genes can be passed down the maternal line. Until now,  infertile women such as those in the study could conceive only using in vitro fertilization.

Genetic analysis indicates that at least two of the fifteen children at St. Barnabas have tested positive for inheriting DNA from three adults. That is to say they inherited extra genes and integrated them into their own germ line. Therefore they can pass the extra genes on to their immediate offspring and descendants.

News of the research results is setting off a contentious ethical debate beyond the United States’ borders. World geneticists fear that methods like this could lead to the design of new human sub-species. These might feature specially desired attributes like mental acumen or physical strength. In fact, most of the international science community fears that this kind of tinkering will lead to cloning deliberately for the purpose of genetic design. That’s according to Rebecca Taylor with United Kingdom-based

Taylor reports that John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, regards the entire in vitro fertilization process as leading to the trivialization of conception as a means to create babies. Instead we are left with production line style birth. Says Smeaton, “It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.”