In the United Kingdom, scientists are preparing a European trial on maternal gene therapy called EVERREST, to treat early onset foetal growth restriction. They have announced that they have found pregnant women who do not see any ethical barriers to this type of study and who are willing to participate. British medical organisations also have to give them the green light. The trial could start in 2017.
Foetal growth restriction is an incurable disease characterised by the abnormally slow growth of the foetus due to reduced blood flow in the placenta. The condition affects approximately 8% of pregnancies. If EVERREST is approved, scientists aim to treat pregnant women with gene therapy in order to increase maternal growth factor production. The treatment has already been tested successfully in animals.
Out of the 55 relevant contacts approached by scientists (mostly health professionals), 34 replied together with 24 women affected by this condition. Treating pregnant women to benefit the foetus was welcomed unanimously but has also raised concerns “about the psychological burden of the treatment and the decision to take part”. “Our investigation concluded that there are no ethical or legal objections to a maternal gene therapy trial during pregnancy,” explained Dr. Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Bioethics at Queen Mary’s University, London.