US won’t fund GM embryos over safety and ethical fears

The US will not fund the genetic modification of embryos due to serious safety and ethical concerns, the head of the country’s medical research agency has said.

The National Institutes of Health Director Dr Francis Collins said gene-editing technology has been “viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed”, in response to news of scientists in China using it on embryos for the first time.

A team led by Junjiu Huang used the technique, called Crispr, to alter an abnormal gene that causes a life-threatening blood disorder.

Ethical issues

Dr Collins referred to the many laws and regulations that are currently in place banning this kind of work.

He said the strong arguments against this technology include “the serious and unquantifiable safety issues” and “ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent”.

Genetically modifying human embryos has also attracted criticism from the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS), an organisation that encourages responsible use of human genetic and reproductive biotechnologies.

Discrimination

In a statement, the Executive Director of CGS Marcy Darnovsky said: “Creating people with purported biological upgrades could all too easily exacerbate social inequality, discrimination and conflict.

“A decision to forgo human germline modification would protect our efforts toward a more just and equal society.”

Daily Telegraph feature writer Judith Woods warned that creating ‘designer babies’ could be next.

Sinister eugenics

She said we should “draw the line” now, to avoid moves towards “sinister eugenics”.

“Just because it’s scientifically possible doesn’t make it right”, she said.

In February this year, MPs and Peers voted to approve regulations allowing techniques to create three and four-parent babies, despite serious ethical and safety concerns. The babies will have genetically modified mitochondrial DNA.

During the House of Commons debate, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said, “once these procedures that we’re asked to authorise today go ahead, there will be no going back for society”.