Some of you may have seen this news story about British scientists possibly becoming the first to offer new treatments for incurable genetic diseases that would involve babies being born with DNA from three people.
We thought you might like to have a butcher's at our rather excellent <blows trumpet --and mixes metaphors--> Q&A about it all.
And, as ever, please do share your thoughts about it all here.
Um, call me controversial but has anyone considered that condoms might be a very good alternative? Personally if I knew that I was likely to pass on a genetc dysfunction I'd have considered other options before genetic alteration of my childs DNA with unknown consequences for future generations of my family.
Mini - have you actually gone and read about this subject at all? In all the cases I have read about the parent's haven't even HEARD of the condition before their child has gotten sick..so how could they possibly know? The only way to solve that problem is for couples to undergo complete genetic profiling before getting pregnant - I can really see the NHS coughing up for that....
I think you can extend same argument to state that medical intervention should never be used for anything. It's a free country, folk can make their own decisions about taking such chances. You can hoik judgey pants or you can offer them an alternative.
The more we know about our DNA the more we know it is a long way from being all of the story. Our epigenome (simply speaking things that turn sections of our DVA on and off depending on our environment, some of which is passed on to future generations) plays a much more significant role in how we develop than we imagined just a few years ago.
It is worth having the discussion about this and its social implications and I'm sure this method will be regarded as a crude and non-precise technique in the future but for the benefits it could bring it is not an unreasonable medical advance.
Most children die of severe mitochondrial disease before their fifth birthday, very often in their first year. If you'd like to say to those parents that they just resign themselves to having dodgy genes and stick a condom on, when science offers them a way to have children who will not die, then go ahead.
Hopefully stem cell research will also lead us to the possibility of effective treatment for mitochondrial disease. Also a controversial issue for some. Genetic research is galloping ahead in this area. In just two years for example it moved from diagnosis via muscle biopsy that couldn't necessarily prove anything and couldn't give you much information on the type of disease, and which took months to grow, to diagnosis of precise genetic dysfunction from a swab. Progress like this is incredibly heartening.
MtDNA is inherited solely from the mother. Would I be correct on saying that mitochodrial illnesses are down to mutations? so basically if you took MtDNA from a relation on the same female line you would just be giving the egg the MtDNA it should have had?
The problem with that would be finding someone on the female line without a mutation. The tricky thing about mitochondrial mutations is that they affect everyone differently so one person can die from it, a sibling could be chronically ill and a third unaffected. Random testing in the US suggests that 1 in 10 people has some mitochondrial disfunction-far fewer than ever know about it. Increasingly diseases are being linked to mitochondria that were previously not viewed in that way. There is thinking for example that there might be a link to ME.
Yes, of course I've read up on the subject. My heart goes out to those who have been bereaved, and those who are suffering, and my admiration to those who are researching cures.
I'll admit my post was blunt and somewhat provocative, but there is an old wives saying "prevention is better than cure" and there is the option here of prevention even if it is less exciting from a scientific point of view.
But if not contraception, trusted IVF alternative is already available to those that really want to have a baby and it produces happy families with no germline modification, DNA experimentation on as yet unborn children and our future generations.
Stiffybing, your last point is very salient and nudges at the problem that we dont fully know what mitochondrial disease is, we know it can be deadly sometimes, but the symptoms could also just be undesirable, which is where the ethical debate on designer babies would come in.
Perhaps we should understand more using stem cell research before we are so arrogant as to make unilateral ethical decisions that will irreversibly change the agreed scientific boundaries on a global scale.
Either way I know for certain that I wouldn't choose to offer my offspring up for experimentation. I'd put a condom on it and hoik my pants ... or maybe choose IVF, adoption or cats.