Researchers who are believed to be the first to have genetically altered a human embryo have dismissed worries that it's the first step toward creating 'designer babies' by inserting specific genes into embryos to promote desired traits such as athletic ability or intelligence.
The scientists said their work was focused on stem cells, and they used an abnormal embryo that had no chance of developing into a baby, the Associated Press reported.
"None of us wants to make designer babies," said Dr Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Centre.
'Scientists not allowing public debate'
He and his colleagues presented their study last fall at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but it only received widespread attention after it was highlighted over the weekend by a British newspaper.
The Cornell scientists are developing techniques that others might use to produce genetically-modified humans, "and they're doing it without any kind of public debate," said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Centre for Genetics and Society, the AP reported. The research was also criticised by a London-based group called Human Genetics Alert.
The research doesn't trouble Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Centre in Washington, DC, who noted that there are still many technical barriers to modifying babies by inserting genes.
"We're not even close to having that technology in hand to be able to do it right," and it would be ethically unacceptable to attempt it when it hasn't been proven to be safe, Hudson told the AP. – (HealthDay News, May 2008)
Human embryos cloned to make stem cells
Human cloning coming soon