A debate is currently underway in the United States Chamber of Representatives to determine whether hereditary changes to the embryo genome should be authorised. This debate surfaced in April when Chinese scientists announced that they had succeeded in altering the genome of human embryos.
The American National Health Institute pointed out that a “1996 law banned the government from financing or initiating studies that would destroy or create human embryos for the purpose of research”.
A draft law is now being discussed which seeks to prevent the American Food and Drug Administration or FDA“from using funds to consider, evaluate or plan a research programme to alter the genome of human embryos”. This ban would also extend to research into genetic modifications “to sperm or oocytes which could be used to create genetically modified embryos”.
This draft law also calls on the FDA to“create a committee comprising religious experts to examine and potentially review”a report expected from the American Institute of Medicine or IOM focussing on the ethical dimension of creating “three parent embryos”. Technically, such embryos can, be created to “prevent women from transmitting genetic diseases to their children”. It is therefore a case of “replacing the defective mitochondrion in the woman’s oocyte and replacing it by a healthy mitochondrion taken from another woman”.
Once the IOM report has been finalised, the expert committee “will have 30 days to examine it and forward its recommendations to the Chamber”.
In order to thwart research into human genome modification financed by private funds, which is legal in the United States, the draft law must also “make it more difficult to access clinical trials relating to the genetic modification of embryos”. In fact, the ban on financing such research only applies to public financing.
Nature(Sara Reardon); 25/09/2015