When Chinese scientists announced earlier in 2015 that they were experimenting with how to modify a deadly gene, the medical world was literally split in two. The Chinese took 86 human embryos and pursued to alter the renowned gene that causes β-thalassaemia. It is a worthy endeavor, but great risks are involved and many expressed their concern about this development.
The medical world division was rational, especially because it was the first time when attempts have been made on reproductive cells. Modifying genes had gone from idea to fact. Some were happy about it and encouraged further research hoping that a deadly genetic disease would be eliminated forever. Others felt that this attempt was not welcome and insisted that it not be repeated ever again.
The truth is that modifying human genes should not be toyed with. Playing God usually ends up badly for humans and, if we start working on genes, we might actually create issues that will be reflected in generations to come. We might be able to solve some issues, but others will surely arise and not knowing them would lead to a catastrophe.
What is also shocking is that now British scientists want to get permission to undergo experiments that resemble the Chinese ones. The main goal is to prove that genetic modifications are viable and that the technology might be of future use.
One of these scientists is Kathy Niakan, a very well-documented stem-cell researcher within the Francis Crick Institute of London. Niakan explained to country regulators that her studies will involve the analysis of genes within a few days after being fertilized. Then she would “play” with the genes, switching them on and off so that she could see how the baby would develop.
Niakan also motivated her research by suggesting that it can give insight as to what the requirements are to develop a healthy human embryo. It might also give significant information as to why miscarriages occur. While Niakan’s intentions are noble, we cannot help but think at what price this information might come.
All the embryos would come as donations from couples that went through IVF treatment. The embryos would be used for basic research only and it will be illegal to implant them into a woman and allow them to grow for more than two weeks.
It has yet been decided whether these experiments will be conducted or not, but we hope that, if they do, we will not walk on a forbidden path.
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