Skip to main content

FDA examines the science of making babies from three parents' embryos

FDA examines the science of making babies from three parents' embryos


Experimental procedure could prevent inheritable diseases, but ethical concerns loom large

Share this story

embryo (wikimedia)
embryo (wikimedia)

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week began discussions over whether it should allow testing of a controversial procedure that would create babies from the DNA of three people. As the Associated Press reports, supporters of the procedure say it could prevent children from inheriting many diseases, though others have expressed ethical concerns, saying it could lead to the development of so-called "designer babies."

Early testing in animals has so far suggested that offspring created from the DNA of three people — two parents and a female donor — could lead healthy lives, preventing them from inheriting debilitating diseases like blindness and organ failure. But there is wide agreement that it may be many years before the results can be fully evaluated, as researchers continue to monitor the long-term health of the progeny.

A slippery slope?

This week, the FDA began hearing arguments from experts in the field, as well as people with ethical concerns. Detractors say the procedure enters nebulous new territory, as it could open the door for the creation of children with desired traits. Others questioned the FDA's authority to regulate such a procedure, arguing that the agency typically regulates drugs and medical devices.

Speakers also included Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of the Oregon Health and Science University, who has produced five healthy monkeys from a technique that replaces the defective mitochondrial DNA in the eggs of a prospective mother with from a healthy donor. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed down from the mother, and mutations in the mitochondria can lead to diseases at birth.

The FDA's panel of experts suggested that more testing will need to be done on animals before allowing for experiments with humans, while raising questions over whether results from animal tests should have any impact on proposed human trials.