Tuesday, March 3. 2015
I will be honest. I am tired. I am angry. I am frustrated. This is likely an uncharacteristically emotional post because, after nearly a decade of writing about biotechnology, I am uncharacteristically horrified.
The UK has officially approved the creation of embryos with three genetic parents, and babies created with this technique are likely to be born within the next year.
This is unprecedented. The UK government has officially sanctioned the germ-line genetic engineering of its citizens and their decedents. British children (and their children, and their grandchildren) will be genetic engineering experiments. Horrifying.
Many experts are concerned about the safety of the technique. They think the invasive, cloning-like procedure is sure to cause birth defects. Even a well-known pro-ESC, pro-cloning scientist urged the UK not to move forward. The reality is that any baby not developing normally will be aborted, and we will likely never hear about the "failures" of this radical experimentation. Horrifying.
Others are rightly concerned that this will open the door to more invasive and extensive engineering. It is not out of the realm of possibility, especially since the UK just changed the definition of "genetic modification" to allow this technique to bypass current laws against germ-line genetic modifications in humans. Future linguistic gymnastics surrounding human genetic engineering is probable. Horrifying.
But what I find even more horrifying is the silence. Silence from Catholics, pro-lifers, and the general public. I find it deafening.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, February 20. 2015
At a time when more and more people are becoming wary of generically-modified foods in their diet, the United Kingdom is poised to begin creating genetically-modified children with the genetic material of three people, two women and one man; a genetic combination that could not occur naturally.And the way the UK goes, the United States may soon follow.
The average person may feel totally overwhelmed by the science and helpless to do anything about it. Unfortunately, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and do nothing. If we ignore this problem it will not go away. If we stay silent we will live in an insane world where people won't eat genetically-modified food, but will turn a blind eye to genetically altering the next generation.
There are things you can do:
1. Educate yourself. Learn about the three-parent embryo technique and how it is a germ-line genetic engineering technique similar to cloning.
2. Share news stories about the creation of three-parent embryos in your social media. Tell people that there is more to consider than just what is on the surface. This is the genetic-engineering of human beings that will affect generations. Also, it is not just being proposed to help mitochondrial disease, a very serious, sometimes fatal, condition, but it has also already been proposed as a treatment for infertility. If your friends are wary eating of GMO foods, they should find this terrifying.
3. Tell people that this technique has not been proven to be safe in animals or humans. There are excellent statements by scientists who are concerned about the safety of the technique here, here and here that you can share. These scientists are rightly concerned that the invasive nature of the procedure will do more harm than good. Get people thinking about what happens when something goes wrong. Will abortion be the "back-up" plan for any baby not developing normally?
4. Sign this petition to the UK House of Lords, the next stop on the approval route, urging them to reject any germ-line genetic modification of human embryos. I bet if this was the introduction of a new genetically-modified food to the grocery shelves it would easily have hundreds of thousands of signatures. Challenge yourself and your friends to show the same concern for the creation of GMO kids.
Tuesday, February 17. 2015
When the UK Parliament voted to allow the creation of genetically-modified children with techniques mislabeled as "mitochondrial replacement" it seems many in the scientific community believed this was progress.
Why would the UK allow the creation of genetically-modified children? It is an attempt to "prevent" the inheritance of disease caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondria are small power-generating organelles in our cells that contain their own DNA. We inherit our mtDNA solely from our mother.
UK fertility clinics are now one step closer to creating and transferring embryos that have the genetic material of three people, two women and one man. The babies will have the mtDNA of a donor woman and the nuclear DNA of mother and father.
There are those scientists that are speaking out against these techniques, that are very similar to cloning, saying that there is evidence that is being overlooked. Others are pointing out that this is indeed experimentation on children and it cannot be performed in an ethical fashion.
Here are two videos by biologists that are must-see TV for everyone. Take 10 minutes and educate yourself on the dangers of these techniques and then inform others.
I know they may seem "over your head" but if everyone ignores these tough issues, we will end up being a backward society that fears eating genetically-modified food but then turns around and genetically alters our children.
The first is an informative interview with Prof Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College. Note at minute 2:55 Dr. Newman asks, "What if you get a person that is impaired from this procedure? Do you discard the experimental outcome?" Of course the "experimental outcome" is a child. There is no doubt that abortion will be used as a "fail-safe" to destroy any babies that are not developing normally.
The next video is a short one with Dr Edward Morrow, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sussex. He points out that not all of the evidence regarding this technique has been evaluated with proper weight. New important research is being disregarded.
Tuesday, February 10. 2015
Logic purists will always call the appeal to the slippery slope a fallacy. You cannot argue against A just because it might lead to B.
Mitochondrial donation involves the merging of three people’s DNA into a single embryo (Rex)
Unfortunately in the our Brave New World of anything-goes biotechnology, the slippery slope is very real. It is an appeal that I use all the time because, these days, in reproductive medicine, A does lead to B. There are no lines that people are willing to draw if it curtails the mythical "reproductive rights."
Case in point, the three-parent embryo. This technique was developed as a way to "prevent" terrible, life-threatening, mitochondrial diseases from being passed from mother to child. Whether correctly or not, the UK House of Commons and other proponents of the technique believe that the health benefits to the child outweigh the risks of using a procedure similar to cloning in the IVF process.
But now the scientist that developed one of the three-parent techniques, wants to use it not to "prevent" disease in a child, but as a treatment for infertility. In other words, he wants to use it not for the benefit of the child, but for the benefit of the potential parents.
In our age of "reproductive rights" see how quickly the focus shifts from the good of the children to the desires of the parents?
As women age, their eggs become less likely to yield a viable pregnancy. That may be due to aging factors like mitochondria in the cytoplasm of the egg. Taking the nucleus of an aging egg and placing it in a "young" donor egg would give older women the chance to have genetically-related children. It is also the very same technique used for "replacing" diseased mitochondria. It is genetic engineering of the egg that would create children with three genetic parents: two women and one man.
Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov wants permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the three-parent embryo technique he developed as a new fertility treatment for older mothers. The Independent has the story:
Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a world authority on embryo manipulation, said he had requested permission from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct trials of mitochondrial transfer as a treatment for age-related infertility. He said the parliamentary vote last Tuesday, when MPs overwhelmingly approved the “three-parent” baby technique for creating IVF babies free of mitochondrial disease, has bolstered his case with the US regulator.The immediate call for the use of this untested, possibly unsafe, treatment as a new tool in the infertility tool-belt is a harbinger of things to come. It took less than a week for this shift of focus from the child to the parent. How long before the call for real "designer babies" where parents get to engineer the genetic make-up of their child?
This reproductive slippery slope is very real, and it is getting more slick every day. To protect the future generations from the genetic whims of the previous, we have to put a stop to human germ-line genetic engineering now.
Hat Tip: Center for Genetics and Society
Tuesday, February 3. 2015
Oh Huxley, what is your beloved country about to do?
In a historic vote that will likely go down in infamy, the UK House of Commons has given the go-ahead to the creation of three-parent babies. The vote was 382 to 128 to legally sanction the creation of genetically-modified children. The House of Lords will debate on the issue next, but according to BBC News, "The first attempt could take place this year, which could lead to the first birth in 2016."
Why would the UK allow the creation of genetically-modified children? It is an attempt to "prevent" the inheritance of disease caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondria are small power-generating organelles in our cells that contain their own DNA. We inherit our mtDNA solely from our mother.
UK fertility clinics are now one step closer to creating and transferring embryos that have the genetic material of three people, two women and one man. The babies will have the mtDNA of a donor woman and the genomic DNA of mother and father.
The techniques used to create children with three genetic parents are often called mitochondrial replacement (MR) or mitochondrial transfer (MT). These are misnomers. They make it sound like the little organelles in a woman's egg are being replaced. No big deal, right?
But what is actually happening is a whole genome replacement, a swap of the nucleus of one egg into another, much like the cloning technique that created Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. In other words, the House of Commons has given the go ahead to techniques that are very close to the same procedure that has repeatedly produced animal offspring with major birth defects.
Stuart A. Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, has a great expose at the Huffington Post about the dangers and deception that surround so-called mitochondrial replacement, which he calls by their proper names "maternal spindle transfer" (MST) and "pronuclear transfer" (PNT). Newman writes:
But this is only mitochondrial replacement in the sense that someone who moves into a new home may experience "refrigerator replacement," i.e., only by employing a highly idiosyncratic (and misleading) use of the term....What Dr. Newman is saying, in layman's terms, is that these techniques are very invasive and disruptive and so the children produced with these procedures are at great risk. There very lives will be an experiment in human genetic modification.
Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a vocal American stem cell researcher, agrees. In an open letter to the UK Parliament, he warns:
Even if hypothetically this technology might help avoid some people from having mitochondrial disorders (and that’s a big if), the bottom line is that there is an equal or arguably greater chance that it will tragically produce very ill or deceased babies.Even more horrifying is that this genetic manipulation would be passed down from generation to generation. It is genetic experimentation on those who cannot consent.
We are at a very steep precipice. If the UK does begin to create genetically-modified children as it seems poised to do, this may change everything. This will open the door to even more radical genetic manipulation, and with new DNA editing techniques emerging, it may be a perfect storm precipitating the advent of designer children. The genetics of future generations will be at the mercy of our whims. Their health and well-being tossed aside in favor of parental desires.
I pray this tsunami can be stopped before we are drowned by our own advancements. No child should ever be a genetic experiment, ever.
Tuesday, January 20. 2015
In science fiction movies, it seems like it is easy to edit the genetics of a living organism. In reality, it is very, very difficult. A new technique in genetic engineering is creating quite a buzz in the genetics world because it allows researchers to do just that: edit the DNA of living cells.
It is called CRISPR and it uses an enzyme discovered in bacteria that can target a specific sequence of DNA and cut it. Bacteria use this enzyme as a kind of immune system targeting, cutting and disabling the DNA of viruses attempting to infect the cell.
Researchers have adapted CRISPR for use in plant and animal cells and can use the technology to precisely edit DNA at a very specific point. They can use CRISPR to silence genes or add new genes into the cells of a living organism. Scientists have been able to use CRISPR to introduce targeted mutations into yeast, plants, mice, rats, pigs and even primates.
CRISPR is not just revolutionizing genetic research, it is forcing us to have a much needed conversation about the genetic engineering of humans.
Ideally CRISPR will only be used for gene therapy in humans, fixing a defective gene in a patient with genetic disease. But CRISPR technology could be used for virtually anything, including creating true designer children with DNA specified by parents.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Monday, January 19. 2015
Ilya Somin at the Washington Post highlights a survey conducted by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics that found that over 80% of Americans support the “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA."
Insert groaning and a collective face palm.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, January 9. 2015
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was for these inalienable rights that the American colonists declared their independence. It is also for these rights that millions have traveled to our shores looking for opportunity and a better life.
There is another right, not enumerated in our Constitution, that Americans regrettably hold dear enough that it often trumps all the others. Foreigners are traveling to the U.S. to exercise this right as well. That right is the “reproductive right.”
Decades ago, when abortion on demand became the law of our land, reproductive rights meant that a woman could terminate her unborn child for any reason. Today, the meaning of reproductive rights has expanded to include creating children any way one sees fit and tossing out any offspring who do not fulfill one’s desires.
Our warped understanding of reproductive rights means that, in most states, sex selection is perfectly legal. If an American wants a child of a certain sex, then many believe that is his or her “reproductive right.”
Our lax attitude toward sex selection is not shared around the world. Many countries, like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea and the United Kingdom, to name just a few, have restrictions on sex selection. Even in China and India, sex selection is illegal, although it still remains a problem in those countries. These societies have acknowledged that choosing who gets to live based simply on gender is an unethical practice they will not sanction.
As a result, the United States has become a safe haven for sex selection. Whether through sex-selective abortion or through in vitro fertilization (IVF) with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), immigrants and foreigners with gender bias are taking advantage of our lack of restrictions.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register>>
Wednesday, December 31. 2014
There maybe new hope for the millions of patients worldwide that suffer from multiple sclerosis, better known as MS. MS is a debilitating and progressive disease where a patient’s own immune system attacks the protective covering around the cells of the nervous system. This causes a wide range of varying and unpredictable symptoms including fatigue, decreased mobility, and visual disturbances.
There is no cure for MS. Often patients are put on drugs that suppress the immune system to try and slow progression of the disease.
Researchers have published a study of a handful of MS patients in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology that indicates immunosuppressive drugs in combination with an adult stem cell transplant may significantly improve the treatment. These stem cells came from the patient’s own body, and, in combination with high-dose immunosuppressive therapy, the majority of the 24 patients in the study experienced benefits.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Tuesday, December 16. 2014
Last year, Bruce Feiler wrote a piece for The New York Times in which he began by regretting the bad behavior of his family at a reunion. He wondered whether his family was “falling apart.” That question prompted him to research what makes for a happy family.
Feiler found the work of Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. Duke came up with a questionnaire for children called the “Do You Know?” scale, which contained 20 questions about the child’s family history. Children were asked, among other things, if they knew where their mom and dad went to high school, where their grandparents grew up and which person they looked most like in their family.
What Duke found was surprising. The single best predictor of emotional health and happiness in children was how well they performed on the “Do You Know?” scale. Feiler wrote, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
This finding may not be so surprising, considering the popularity of websites like Ancestry.com, where the creators invite visitors, “Join us on a journey through the story of how you became, well, you.” Even TLC has a genealogy show called Who Do You Think You Are? — which implies that our very identity is rooted in those people who not only begot us, but those who begot our parents and grandparents, as well.
And yet society has embraced, without question, creating children who will intentionally be denied part, or all, of their family history.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register>>
Monday, December 15. 2014
An excellent piece by Beth Daley from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting called "Overused and Misunderstood" is a must read. It is about the new non-invasive prenatal screening tests offered by companies that claim they are 99% accurate. These screens are done early in pregnancy using only a maternal blood sample giving couples an eariler look at the health of their unborn baby.
The problem is that these are screening tests but are being used as diagnostic tests.
What is the difference? A screen is a test given to a general healthy population and usually has high sensitivity so that any possible problems are flagged. Because of the high sensitivity, false positives are more common. Also, screens are not necessarily approved by the FDA. A screen is always supposed to be confirmed with a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test is designed with high specificity for a particular condition flagged by the screen. It is often more invasive and is meant as a tool to make a definitive diagnosis.
Because these new, non-invasive, prenatal screening tests are being touted as "99% accurate" and having "near-diagnostic accuracy," parents are skipping the confirmatory diagnostic tests like CVS and amniocentesis and are going straight for abortion if the screen indicates a genetic problem. Daley reports on the Chapmans that almost aborted their healthy son:
Stacie Chapman’s heart skipped when she answered the phone at home and her doctor — rather than a nurse — was on the line. More worrisome was the doctor’s gentle tone as she asked, “Where are you?”The Chapmans are not alone. Daley exposes that:
Two recent industry-funded studies show that test results indicating a fetus is at high risk for a chromosomal condition can be a false alarm half of the time. And the rate of false alarms goes up the more rare the condition, such as Trisomy 13, which almost always causes death.False alarm half the time.
I really have no issue with these tests IF they were presented to doctor and patient properly. In an ideal world, abortion would not be an option, but early intervention would. In other words, if a genetic anomaly was indicated in a screen, a more accurate diagnostic test would be performed, and then a healing intervention like gene therapy would be attempted. Obviously gene therapy in utero is not yet a therapeutic option for the unborn, but when it is, these screening tests will be a valuable tool.
But if companies are presenting these screens to be as good or better than a diagnostic test, doctors believe them and parents are aborting as a result, then the companies are seriously negligent. Like in this case, which turns my stomach:
And at Stanford University, there have been at least three cases of women aborting healthy fetuses that had received a high-risk screen result.Obviously no child should be aborted for any reason. But this report is very troubling. How many healthy babies have been ripped from their mother's wombs because of predatory marketing?
Here are my recommendations:
1. Never confuse a screening test with a diagnostic test. Always get a confirmation with an FDA approved diagnostic test.
2.Get genetic counseling with any positive genetic test, prenatal or otherwise. Request genetic counseling even if your doctor does not suggest it. Doctors often do not know about the intricacies of genetic testing, especially if the tests are new. Genetic counselors are professionals who are up on all the latest genetic tests and will surely know the difference between a screen and a diagnostic test. They are there to guide patients through the maze of genetic testing. I highly recommend availing yourself of their services.
Tuesday, December 9. 2014
I think future generations will look back on our insane notion of "reproductive rights," and they will be horrified. Back in the 70s reproductive rights meant terminating a life you already started. Today it also means creating life however you see fit and tossing out whatever doesn't suit your desires. So not only have we killed tens of millions of our own offspring in the name of these "reproductive rights," but we have also turned children into accessories, completing our idea of a perfect family, like a well-appointed scarf completes the perfect outfit.
Case in point, this admission of Australian mother, Jayne Cornwill. She proudly proclaims she "paid $50,000" for her girl, Emmerson. After having three sons, Jayne and her husband, healthy and fertile, were "forced" to travel to America and pay fertility doctor, Daniel Potter, to finally give them a girl. See most other civilized countries in the world think that choosing the sex of your child is barbaric and so have outlawed the practice, but here in the Brave New United States, whatever pays, plays.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, December 2. 2014
The technique that the United States and, more seriously, the United Kingdom are considering bringing to the IVF clinic, which creates embryos with three genetic parents, is often "mitochondrial replacement" or "mitochondrial transfer."
Why that terminology? Well the point of this genetic engineering of children is to "replace" defective mitochondria, little organelles in our cells that produce energy. Mitochondria have their own DNA (mtDNA) and we inherit our mtDNA from our mother exclusively since they are present in her egg when we are conceived. Women with mutations in their mtDNA will pass those on to her children.
So "mitochondrial replacement" or "mitochondrial transfer" seem like appropriate terms to use to describe the three-parent embryo technique. Actually, they are horribly deceptive as Dr. Stuart A. Newman, professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, rightly points out in the Huffington Post.
Looking closer at the technique one realizes that "mitochondrial replacement" (MR) doesn't actually replace mitochondria. What happens is this: an egg from a donor has its nucleus removed leaving healthy mitochondria behind. Then the nucleus from an egg of a woman with mitochondral disease is placed in that donor egg. What results is an egg that has had its NUCLEUS replaced, not its mitochondria.
That genetically engineered egg is then fertilized with sperm, and an embryo with the genetic material from three people is then made. Dr. Newman calls it "the first cases of large-scale human genetic engineering" and he is right.
So why call what is a really a nucleus replacement a mitochondrial replacement? Probably because the public is more likely to support the practice. Dr. Newman calls this misnomer "deceptive" because it is like buying a new house and calling it a "refrigerator replacement."
Because MR replaces the nucleus, not the mitochondria, it is actually more like cloning than anything else.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Wednesday, November 19. 2014
Good grief. That is nearly all I can say about this growing trend of "free" sperm donors. If you are a woman looking to get pregnant and cannot afford to go to a sperm bank, then there are men out there willing to impregnate you for free. That is if you are fine with having sex with a complete stranger. Medical Daily has the story:
Joe considers himself to be a sort of Superman, except instead of flying around saving lives, he travels the UK making lives. Joe is a free sperm donor — that is, he has sex with women free of charge in order to impregnate them. While the service may sound a bit unorthodox, Joe claims he’s conceived more than 30 offspring and is far from the only man to tap into this hot business.And just in case you think Joe is the only one out there, there are "free" sperm donor websites with thousands of members.
Setting aside the health risks and the fact that Joe is a serial adulterer, this trend really does illuminate how disconnected our society has become regarding sexual intercourse.
Naturally sex has two aspects. There is the love and bonding part between two potential parents and then there is the procreative part, the part that produces offspring. They are two parts of the same whole. One without the other and the act is only a shadow of what it was meant to be. I like to think of sex like a pair of scissors. Together the scissors work together beautifully. Separate the two parts and you could probably cut something, but it sure won't work as as well as when the two parts are joined together.
We unnaturally separated these two parts of sex when we decided that sex should only be for recreation and embraced widespread contraception use.
Then, with artificial insemination and IVF, we separated procreation from the sex act altogether bringing human reproduction into the sterile atmosphere of the laboratory.
Now we have come full circle and "free" sperm donors are providing the procreation the natural way without the bonding part. Now it is just sex with a stranger to make babies.
Babies that are going to ask where their father is. Babies that will likely have a innate desire to know and love their biological father. Imagine the devastation when these kids find out their mother had sex with a total stranger to bring them into existence. I cannot even imagine. Those poor children.
Have I said good grief yet? If not, GOOD GRIEF!
Tuesday, November 11. 2014
Creating children with sperm donation has gone on for a long time. In fact, the first documented case of a woman becoming pregnant by donor insemination was in 1884. A Quaker woman and her merchant husband, not able to conceive, approached Dr. William Pancoast of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. When Dr. Pancoast presented this couple's case to his medical students, one of the students suggested:
… that semen should be collected from the "best looking" member of the class, and used to inseminate the woman. Dr. Pancoast agreed to the experiment. Without informing either the woman or her husband of his intentions, he called the merchants wife back under the pretense of doing another examination. The woman was anesthetized, and the procedure was carried out. It wasn't until it became evident that the woman had actually conceived that her husband was informed.The woman was never told what was done to her. It seems somethings never change. Today's billion dollar fertility industry regularly uses woman desperate for children as guinea pigs for whatever new procedure a doctor can think up.
Over a century later and the practice has become even more bizarre and convoluted. Last week I stumbled upon this piece at the New Republic by Stephanie Fairyington. Stephanie fell in love with her lesbian partner Sabrina, and they were married. Visiting Sabrina's newborn niece, Del, brought out something unexpected in Stephanie:
Del planted an impossible desire in me: She made me want to corporealize my love for Sabrina, to create a biological record—a baby—of the fact that we were here and we loved one another.Unable to conceive on their own, they needed sperm, but just any sperm donor would not do. For both women to have a biological connection to the "corporealization of their love" a relation would have to provide the sperm. So Stephanie asked her brother to be their donor.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, November 7. 2014
A new study in mice suggests that the stem cells in breast milk are incorporated into the baby's body. Researchers genetically altered mice with a gene that makes their cells glow red in fluorescent light. Those mice then suckled mice that were not their offspring. The baby mice had the red glowing cells incorporated into all kinds of tissues including the brain, liver and kidneys. New Scientist has the story:
The latest findings, presented at the National Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium in London last week, suggest that in mice at least, breast milk stem cells cross into the offspring's blood from their stomach and play a functional role later in life.The findings suggest that the same is true for humans. Obviously this exact experiment cannot be replicated in humans, but researchers do plan to investigate this finding in primates.
Monday, November 3. 2014
Paul Knoepfler, a vocal stem cell researcher, has penned an open letter to the UK Government asking for them to put the breaks on the three-parent embryo. I post it in its entirety because the whole thing needs to be read. It is important to understand that it is not only pro-lifers that object to this genetic experimentation on children. There are those who lean much farther left that do as well. And while I do not agree that PGD is a moral alternative as Dr. Knoepfler suggests, I think the letter is overall excellent and I thank Dr. Knoepfler for writing it.
Open letter to UK Parliament: avoid historic mistake on rushing human genetic modification
Wednesday, October 29. 2014
Following up on my piece Orwellian Deception: Three-Parent Babies Okayed in the U.K. where I outline how the government in the United Kingdom quietly changed the definition of "genetic modification" to exclude the three-parent technique which would allow three-parent children to be made in fertility clinics, I found this article from The Independent where the government's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, defends the deception.
Essentially, the argument is this: mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is outside the nucleus, not part of the 46 chromosomes that most people consider to be what makes us who we are, so when mtDNA is "switched out" that does not affect what makes us who we are, and so therefore does not constitute "genetic modification." Dame Davies explains:
In oral evidence to the House of Commons science and technology committee, Dame Sally explained that she wanted to make a clear distinction between the 37 genes of the mitochondria – the energy "factories" of the cells – and the 23,000 or so genes held within the chromosomes of the cell’s nucleus.Except evidence from animal and human studies indicate that variations in mtDNA may affect things well beyond just energy production. Case in point, this study of variations in mtDNA where researchers found a correlation between mtDNA and personality traits like extroversion. Their hypothesis was formulated from the association of mtDNA variations and psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The researchers write:
Previous studies have suggested a role of mitochondria and their DNA polymorphisms in neuro-psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder. Thus, we hypothesized that mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms might be related with the development of personality. The present study investigated a role of two mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms, the C5178A and A10398G, in personality traits evaluated using the NEO PI-R scores in 238 healthy Japanese volunteers. Subjects with the 5178A genotype showed significantly higher extraversion score than those with the 5178C genotype...Although further studies are recommended for the confirmation, the result may suggest a role of the mitochondrial DNA polymorphism in the personality trait.These kinds of findings are what made New Scientist do an about-face regarding mitochondrial replacement techniques. They said, "It's more messy than we thought" and they raise the point that evidence suggests that mitochondria "play a key role in some of the most important features of human life."
My question is why the UK government is so eager to redefine "genetic modification" to exclude mtDNA changes when research into the effects of mtDNA is just now telling us that these 37 genes may affect more than previously thought. Replacing a person's mtDNA may affect their personality, which means giving them the traits of three people. This is not just a "battery replacement."
Add in that there are very few primate studies done so far and this is a germ-line modification that will affect generations, at the very least, caution would seem to be in order here, but there is none to be found.
If we can just redefine terms like "genetic modification" on false premises to fit an agenda, then I am certain that "designer babies" with all kinds of genetic tinkering are not far behind. Single base change on chromosome 12? Not "genetic modification." Remove a tiny part of chromosome 1? Not "genetic modification." Extra chromosome? Not "genetic modification."
By all means, redefine away so that we can create genetically-modified children to our hearts' content.
Monday, October 20. 2014
It is against the law in the United Kingdom to genetically engineer humans in a way that can be passed onto future generations. This is called a germ-line genetic modification. The three-parent embryo technique, also called mitochondrial replacement is very much a germ-line modification. When the majority of the people in the UK told the government they did not want the law changed, the government simply changed the definition of "genetic modification" so the technique could move forward. I think the UK Department of Health needs to change its name to the Ministry of Truth.
Read my piece about The Orwellian Deception: Three-Parent Babies Okayed in the U.K. at the National Catholic Register. It begins:
New cutting-edge techniques in biotechnology frequently evoke intuitive feelings of apprehension and unease. This is especially true for research that creates, manipulates or destroys human life.Continue Reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Tuesday, October 14. 2014
Last week doctors in Sweden announced the birth of a baby after a uterus transplant. The baby is so far healthy being born at only 31 weeks gestation.
I am very happy that mother and baby are healthy enough to leave the hospital and I wish them continued health. I also wish that this procedure is quickly rejected by the greater medical establishment.
You might ask why a pro-life person would ever be against a procedure that brings life into the world. I am against the uterus transplant because I believe it is bad medicine.
Many people, including prominent bioethicist Father Tad Pacholczyk who compared a uterus transplant to a kidney transplant, believe that this is just like another other organ transplant and so a worthwhile endeavor. I have to respectfully disagree.
Kidneys are an organ that are necessary for life. A uterus is not. A woman is not going to die if she does not have a uterus. This is purely an elective procedure.
Elective procedures are not necessarily bad medicine, but when they put multiple lives at risk then we must call foul. In this case a live donor was used to obtain the uterus. Her life was put at risk for a very invasive procedure, the removal of her uterus. Then the woman who received the uterus also underwent invasive surgery and put her own life at risk. Then the child who was gestated in a donated womb had his or her life put at risk during the most critical part of human development. What if the mother began to reject the uterus? What does that mean for the fetus whose very life depends on the perfect functioning of that organ?
I am not the only one raising these important flags. Dr. Antonio Gargiulo, a specialist in infertility and reproductive surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was interview by the Boston Globe and he lays it all out:
A live donor would have to undergo a radical hysterectomy, he said, which would remove a larger portion of the tissues surrounding the uterus than in a typical hysterectomy, so that those tissues could be connected with tissues of the recipient.So three lives put at risk during an elective procedure for a non-life threatening condition: the desire to experience pregnancy.
When it be enough? When will we draw a line and say "I am very sorry for the pain and anguish you experience because of your infertility, but this is a length to which we just cannot go."
I also see abuses in the future. When kidney and other organ transplants began I doubt anyone realized the massive demand that would result. A demand that fuels a black market organ trade which exploits the poor in third world countries. When surrogacy began, I bet no one envisioned hundreds of poor women in Asian countries being paid paltry amounts to carry the offspring of rich westerners.
I fear if uterus transplants become commonplace this is just one more way the rich will exploit those living in poverty not just overseas but in our own communities. If we can pay a woman to carry a child for us, then how much more would we pay for her uterus so that we can carry the child ourselves?
The chance for massive exploitation of poor women willing to sell their functioning uterus to the highest bidder scares me. Call me alarmist if you will, but considering the world we live in, I feel this is a real possibility.
Tuesday, October 7. 2014
Many people are not aware that there are already about two dozen kids in the United States that have been genetically modified. A recent headline exclaims that "The World’s First Genetically Modified Babies Will Graduate High School This Year." This is true.
Nearly 2 decades ago, Dr. Jacques Cohen of the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey genetically altered the eggs of infertile women and created around 30 genetically-modified children. Cohen used a technique called "cytoplasmic transfer" to "rejuvenate" an infertile woman's eggs by injecting the cytoplasm of another woman's healthy egg. Factors inside the cytoplasm help the infertile woman's egg in fertilization.
When Cohen injected the cytoplasm of the healthy egg, it contained mitochondria from the donor egg. Those mitochondria have DNA from the woman who donated that egg called mtDNA. So the after that hybrid egg was fertilized, the resulting children had the DNA from 1 man, and 2 women. A genetic modification that any girl would pass onto her offspring since mitochondria are inherited from the mother only.
In 2002, the Washington Monthly did an in depth story on "cytoplasmic transfer" and Dr. Cohen where it was reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Cohen and other fertility clinics to stop performing cytoplasmic transfer.
That seemed to be the end of creating children with three-genetic parents until "mitochondrial replacement" also called the "three-parent embryo" technique, came along recently as a way to "prevent" the inheritance of mitochondrial disease caused by mutations in the mtDNA.
Mitochondrial replacement is a more invasive technique where instead of simply injecting cytoplasm into an egg to help with fertilization, the egg is taken apart. The nucleus of an egg with defective mitochondria is removed and placed into an egg with healthy mitochondria. That radically-altered egg is then fertilized. Like cytoplasmic transfer, this creates an embryo with the genetic material from three people.
Now that the United States and the United Kingdom are seriously considering moving forward with mitochondrial replacement, the children of cytoplasmic transfer are under scrutiny to see if they are healthy and normal. The New York Times did a glowing piece on 13 year-old Alana Saarinen, conceived with cytoplasmic transfer, that concludes:
Mrs. Saarinen, a hairdresser in suburban Detroit, believes the case for a new kind of fertility treatment is already clear. Her daughter Alana — athletic, smart and slim — has never been sick with anything worse than the flu.The message is clear, since Alana, at 13, is healthy then we are clear to move forward with mitochondrial replacement. By all means, let us begin to genetically modify our children, grandchildren and great-grand children because Alana is "athletic, smart and slim."
In all seriousness, there are several problems with this logic, or lack there of:
1. Alana, as sweet as I am sure she is, is an anecdote. We cannot base any decision about the safety of having three genetic parents on her smarts, her academic record, or her weight. What about the other children? The Washington Monthly story reveals that another cytoplasmic transfer child has been diagnosed with "pervasive developmental disorder."
2. Alana is only 13 and has yet to teach adulthood or have children of her own. A paper published in Science urged caution in moving forward with mitochondrial replacement because many effects of a mismatch between nuclear and mtDNA in animal studies are not observed until adulthood. We also have no idea how Alana's genetic engineering will affect her children.
3. Even if Alana and all the other cytoplasmic transfer children and their children are perfectly healthy for their entire lives, that says nothing about the future of mitochondrial replacement kids. The two techniques are fundamentally different. In cytoplasmic transfer, some extra cytoplasm is injected into the egg leaving it intact. In mitochondrial replacement, the egg is taken apart having a nucleus removed and then replaced, a much more invasive and destructive technique.
Mitochondrial replacement has more in common with cloning, where the nucleus of an egg is also removed and then replaced, then it does with cytoplasmic transfer. We all know about animal cloning horror stories including dogs that turned out greenish-yellow or were the wrong sex. Cloning trials in agricultural animals in New Zealand were halted because an unacceptable number of the cloned animals and their gestating mothers had to be euthanized.
The invasive nature of mitochondrial replacement is what caused Dr. Paul Knoepfler, stem cell researcher at UC Davis School of Medicine, to comment on Alana's story that this technique will "inevitably" create children with "chromosomal defects" and "developmental problems."
I am glad that Alana is so far happy and healthy, but she in no way proves that the children of mitochondrial replacement will be as well.
Monday, October 6. 2014
Jennifer Cramblett (Mark Duncan/AP)
So far the debate has been whether or not the lesbian couple is racist. I will not address that issue because I believe there is something much larger at issue here. I want to instead highlight the legacy that decades of artificial reproductive technologies has left us: a society that sees children as products, no different then cars and fast food.
Here is a small sampling of actual comments I have read on this case. There are hundreds of others. Read them and tell me that many people in our society do not now see children as something that can be bought and paid for:
You should get what you paid for. It's not racist, pay for white baby, get white baby.This is the real story. It isn't about race. This is about an industry that has tricked us into believing human beings can be ordered, paid for, and evaluated like any other purchase.
We have made the most precious gifts the world has to offer into something that can be seriously compared with a fast food order. That is the real tragedy. Unfortunately, it is the children that will pay the price.
Tuesday, September 23. 2014
As someone who has handled DNA every day while at work in the lab, I can confidently say there is a lot we don't know about the information stored in this miraculous molecule or about how that information is used. This is one of the reasons why I have been very vocal against the three-parent embryo technique, also called mitochondrial replacement.
The DNA in our mitochondria, tiny organelles in the cytoplasm of our cells that produce usable energy, is very small. mtDNA only has 37 genes which is why many proponents of the three-parent embryo say that "switching out" the mitochondria in an egg (it is actually a switching out of the nucleus) is no big deal. Many have likened it to simply "replacing the batteries."
This kind of rationale drives me crazy because there is a complex symphony of communication between the mtDNA in the cytoplasm of the cell and the DNA inside the nucleus. Anyone who says differently may also try and sell you an island off the coast of Montana. A major concern with this technique is what will it mean for the children (and their children, and their children) with a mismatch between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.
New Scientist has reconsidered their stance on the three-parent technique. Previously, they supported it saying that mtDNA makes "no contribution to the traits that make us human." Now they are not so sure because "It's more messy than we thought." I will let them explain:
Proponents argue the name is misleading: mitochondria and their genomes are purely functional, limited to producing energy and exerting no influence on appearance, personality, intelligence or other human attributes that we value.New Scientist calls for more debate before the UK moves forward with mitochondrial replacement. They unfortunately stop short of calling for a halt:
The new findings may not be a deal-breaker: the humanitarian benefits of mitochondrial replacement arguably outweigh the ethical concerns. Prospective parents may decide that they are happy to have a child with some traits from a third "parent".And this is where my head explodes. Can you spot the bias? Why is it only the parents' concerns that are valid? What about the child? Will THEY be happy to have traits from a third parent they will never know?
This comment is so typical of how we have gone off the rails as a society. All that is ever considered is what the parents' want; what will make them happy. Is there ever a thought to how this intentional genetic engineering will affect the child, and subsequently every generation after?
Apparently not at New Scientist. While I applaud them for stopping to consider the greater consequences, I think they have fallen short in their analysis of what is truly at stake.
At the very least, this shows that we have a woeful understanding of genetic mechanisms and that to even consider moving forward with the genetic manipulation of our offspring, even if the intention is a good, is grossly immoral.
Tuesday, September 16. 2014
There has been much talk about the recently published study by Dr. Teresa Deisher from Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals that shows a correlation between vaccines produced in cell lines procured from aborted fetuses and the incidence of autism.
The reaction in my estimation has been polarized. Either people love it and are telling all their friends that the MMR, Hep A and chickenpox vaccines cause autism, or they are dismissing the study as bad science. With such a contentious subject, I think this is pretty normal.
I would like to stand somewhere in the middle. This study does not prove that these vaccines cause autism. I don't think Deisher, et al. would say that. This study shows a correlation between the use of these vaccines and the incidence of autism.
So what does that mean exactly?
Let me go back to middle school science and go over the scientific method. The first step is to notice a relationship between A and B and come up with a hypothesis that A causes B. The next step is to construct a sound experiment to prove that A actually causes B. It may be that B causes A, or that A causes C which in turn may cause B. If said experiment shows a direct causal effect between A and B, then more experiments need to be constructed to continually prove that A causes B. If much data is collected that proves that under tightly controlled circumstances that A does in fact cause B, then we can say that A causes B.
Where does the Deisher study fall in this process? In my estimation it is only step one. Deisher has collected much data to come up with a reasonable hypothesis that these vaccines may cause autism. Good for her for coming up with an alternative hypothesis to a baffling disease. This should be investigated further, but it is not a study that definitely proves these vaccines cause autism. There is so much more work to do and I thank Dr. Deisher for taking on the challenge. In the discussion, the study states:
The strong ecological association between human fetal cell line-manufactured vaccines and autistic disorder change points calls for further investigation of these childhood vaccine contaminants, and for the sake of preserving critical vaccination coverage, even a return to animal-based manufacturing.I agree that further investigation is needed. I, for one, would like to know more.
Here is the problem. As I said before, this is not proof that vaccines grown in fetal cell lines cause autism. Anyone who insists that it is, is doing a disservice to parents who struggle with the decision to vaccinate. Until a direct causal relationship is proven, all we can say is that there may be a correlation.
I believe these vaccines are important to the health and well-being of children. I believe it is acceptable for parents to use these vaccines to protect their children and consequently people in the community who are immune compromised or cannot get vaccinated. My mother's desk mate in the second grade died from the measles. I know that vaccines are an effective way to prevent the spread of disease.
Use of vaccines grown in aborted fetal cell lines is acceptable because right now there are no alternatives. That does not mean we should not be vocal in our objection to the use of fetal cell lines that came from the murder of an innocent. We must demand alternatives. We may be ignored, but we should still be vocal.
That is my two cents.
Wednesday, August 27. 2014
Paul Knoepfler is a stem cell researcher in California. His work focuses on the reasons pluripotent stem cells (both induced and embryonic) form tumors. He is also a writer and a blogger which is unusual for a research scientist.
Knoepfler does not oppose embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning, but he does oppose the three-parent embryo technique also called mitochondrial replacement. On a recent blog about three-parent babies at the New York Times, Knoepfler wrote this comment:
I'm a stem cell researcher and one of the more vocal opponents of this technology....Dr. Knoepfler is correct. We have not truly discussed the implications of this procedure or how it will lead us further down the eugenics road we are already on. Make no mistake, this technique does not just screen out embryos, it engineers them.
Also, such an invasive intervention on the egg (or embryo) may lead to serious problems that we cannot predict. Knoepfler wrote on his blog:
In the hypothetical context of real-world assisted reproduction, moving one oocyte nucleus into the enucleated oocyte of another person could trigger all kinds of devastating problems (most likely through epigenetic changes) that might not manifest until you try to make a human being out of it.And it is also too late for every generation after. Is that really a chance we want to take? Do we have the moral authority to purposefully and intentionally inflict such abnormalities on future generations?
Dr. Knoepfler is telling us we should not proceed; we need to listen.
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