The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has called for a moratorium on germline gene therapy - treating diseases by altering the genetic information in the egg, sperm or embryo. Changing the human genome in ways that could be passed on from one generation to the next would be unsafe and unethical, conclude ethicists Mark Frankel and Audrey Chapman in their report. They state that a new public body should be appointed immediately to oversee research in the area.
The authors also call for a ban on any procedures that might accidentally result in an inherited genetic change. They cite an experimental fertility treatment that involves removing material (cytoplasm) from a donor egg and injecting into another egg to improve its viability. But a small amount of genetic information is also transferred during the process, in the form of mitochondrial DNA. The report says this could lead to a type of 'inheritable genetic modification', and argues that it should not be done at present.
Jacques Cohen, director of the Institute of Reproductive Medicine and Science in Livingston, New Jersey agrees the technique is highly experimental, but said it was an 'incredible stretch' to call it germline gene therapy. He added the technique had so far resulted in the birth of 15 healthy babies.
A spokesman for the Genetic Interest Group (GIG), a UK support group for people affected by genetic conditions, told BBC News Online that germline gene therapy should not be ruled out altogether. 'We've always said that while it shouldn't be done at the moment for safety and technical reasons, it should be left open as a possibility at some point in the future' said John Gillott.
Sources and References
Moratorium urged on germ line gene therapy
AAAS calls for more gene-therapy oversight
Report: delay human tests