Online Program

“3-person IVF”: Disease management or designer babies?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 : 1:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Center for Genetics and Society, Berkeley, CA
A controversial biological technique that would create genetically modified babies made headlines around the world in February 2015, when it was approved by the UK House of Commons. The experimental technique, which involves creating embryos with genetic material from two women’s eggs and a man’s sperm, would result in inheritable genetic changes: any children born as a result would have genetically alterations in every cell of their bodies, and girls would pass these changes to their offspring and future generations. It will be offered so that a small number of women with a particular subset of mitochondrial disease can try to have unaffected and genetically related children.

“Nuclear genome transfer” has been questioned because of its significant risks for resulting children, as well as for women who would bear them and women who would provide eggs. It has also been challenged on social and policy grounds, because it violates the widespread global agreement that genetic changes to humans should not enter into the germline.

The UK vote was necessary because that country, like more than 40 others, prohibits human inheritable genetic modification. The legislation enacts a narrow exception to that law, which limits the use of nuclear genome transfer to women with serious mitochondrial disease. However, a researcher who developed nuclear genome transfer is advocating its use as a treatment for general age-related infertility – an application that could be commercially attractive to the fertility sector – despite the link between mitochondrial problems and infertility being widely acknowledged as speculative.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Explain the proposed "3-person IVF" technique and its applicability to preventing the transmission of mitochondrial disease or treating infertility. Identify the safety and ethical concerns for women and children who might use or be born as a result of this experimental technique. Discuss the social policy implications in light of the fact that this technique is a form of inheritable genetic modification, and as such is prohibited in more than 40 countries.

Keyword(s): Reproductive Health, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a non-profit public affairs organization working to encourage responsible uses and governance of human genetic and reproductive technologies. I have written widely on this issue, and testified to the FDA committee that met in Feb 2014 to consider it.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.