Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Are We Ready for Designer Genes?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Are We Ready for Designer Genes?

Article excerpt

Research under way may allow children of future generations to run faster and jump higher by manipulating their genetic makeup. Genetic discoveries are occurring daily in scientific labs in St. Louis and across the country. Medical detectives are identifying specific genes that are believed to be responsible for specific illnesses. As a result, gene therapy trials are under way with AIDS patients, cancer patients, arthritis patients and multiple sclerosis patients. And the list keeps getting longer.

These therapies fall into a category called somatic gene therapy, which involves altering specific cells in the body. With somatic gene therapy, the cells being altered are not being passed on to future generations.

A second type of gene therapy, though, is called germ-line gene therapy. This involves permanently altering genetic makeup and altering future generations of a species. Today, there are mice, pigs, goats and other animals that have undergone germ-line gene therapy. Technology will soon make possible germ-line gene therapy in people; that has some scientists and medical ethicists alarmed. "When you do germ-line therapy you are changing things for generations to come. You are experimenting on future generations without their consent," said Dr. Stephen Lefrak, a professor of medicine and director of the Humanities Program at Washington University School of Medicine. Yet, he, says, there are those who are arguing for doing just that. With advances in technology, it is possible to envision germ-line gene therapy to eliminate diabetes or even some types of cancer. "People have said, `Let's not deal with it.' But in the future there will be societal and scientific or technological pressure to pursue it," said Lefrak, who believes society's view of gene therapy is changing. A survey published in the Journal of Medical Genetics has some scientists deeply concerned. The survey, conducted in England in 1993 and 1994, involved almost 1,000 people and it found that the percentage of those who would consider genetic manipulation to make their children smarter or more beautitul more than doubled in 12 months - to 11 percent from 5 percent. The 1994 survey also found that 18 percent thought gene therapy would be acceptable for altering traits for aggression or alcoholism. The authors say the survey showed that a sizable minority of people are not averse to altering physical or behavioral characteristics. However, tinkering with fetal genes to make sure kids don't develop diabetes or to insure they grow up to be smarter or more beautiful is something that is still not yet technically feasible. "People used to laugh at the Nazis for trying to create a super race. But I don't think it is a joke," said Lefrak. "Certainly down the line it is not inconceivable that the possibility of enhancement will create lots of pressures. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.