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The Future of Embryonic Enhancement

The benefits of embryonic enhancement for parents

Technology can be a scary thing. It often brings about changes that seem foreign and can be difficult to understand. But once individuals have a better grasp of the benefits, they usually start to view technological advances in a new way. This may be the case with embryonic enhancements.

Scientific discoveries are generally met with skepticism by the general public. They may also face moral and religious scrutiny, especially when the discoveries deal with human biology.

This past summer, a team of researchers in Oregon conducted the first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos. They used a gene-editing technique called CRISPR to change the DNA of one-cell embryos. The embryos were not allowed to develop beyond a few days, but the experiments are a significant step toward correcting genes that carry inherited diseases.

Current technologies for screening embryos

The techniques used in the Oregon research do not involve treatment of a diseased embryo. They actually create a genetically modified embryo. The purpose of the treatment was to create a child who did not have a specific inherited genetic disease. Many fertility experts currently use a technique that is readily available to select an embryo that does not pass on disorders. It’s called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), It is a simple method to identify embryos carrying serious genetic disorders.

The technique used during the Oregon research treatments correct any defects in the embryo. By altering the DNA of human embryos through a process called germline engineering, scientists say we can eradicate inherited diseases. Through this process, any children who are genetically modified will pass on those changes to their children as well as upcoming generations.

Embryonic enhancement as a benefit

What exactly is embryonic enhancement? It is a procedure to modify human traits that are normal. Embryonic enhancement is a means of optimizing the capabilities and attributes of an individual. The gene either supplements normal gene function or replaces it with enhanced genes.

Genetic enhancement is not a new concept. Human growth hormone (HGH) has been available since 1985. Doctors often prescribed it to children who were of considered shorter than the norm due to growth hormone deficiency. It wasn’t easy to find HGH in earlier years. Today, however, it can come from DNA technology using new combinations of genetic material. The new DNA technology that creates HGH has made the hormone easier to acquire. With that easier retrieval comes new uses for it. Some doctors are now prescribing HGH to enhance the growth of children who are of shorter than their peers, but have no hormone deficiency.

Moral and ethical concerns for embryonic enhancement

Bringing a healthy child into the world is the goal of any expecting parent. Many parents wouldn’t think twice about preventing a devastating genetic disorder from affecting their child if they had the power to do so.

Yet, embryonic enhancement entails a much broader picture for people to consider, and does carry some moral implications and responsibilities.

Some critics have voiced concerns over “designer babies.” The U.S. National Academy of Sciences released a report in February supporting germline modification. However, it did not agree that doctors should use genetic enhancement to increase intelligence or other abilities. There was also a question of fairness because the technology would only be available to some people. As for creating a baby directly from an edited IVF embryo, Congress voted against it and blocked funding for trials with that goal. Genetic enhancement can only eliminate serious diseases.

Canada has strict laws against altering genes and DNA. The act of doing so is considered a criminal offense. However, there is a growing number of scientists and academics calling for less regulation surrounding genetic research and treatment. This could have interesting effects for embryonic enhancements.

The surrogacy connection

The goal of genetic embryonic modification isn’t to create a “superhuman.” At least, that’s not a concern for most parents. The parents we help at CSP hope to create a healthy child through surrogacy who will have a safe and healthy life, free of disease.

Many parents have already suffered the heartache and loss of a baby during pregnancy. Others have failed to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. Genetic embryonic modification removes the chance of your child suffering from a disease passed to them through your DNA. It also protects your future grandchildren, their children, and their children’s children from those diseases. It removes the “bad” gene from the equation.

This technology is a way to take the fear and guesswork out of the process, not a way to create a population of superhumans. It is a personal decision that should be discussed and questioned openly for everyone involved in your surrogacy process. But genetic embryonic modification is becoming less of an anomaly and more of a reality as larger amounts of research dollars are supporting it. The Center for Surrogate Parenting monitors the strides made in this area because it allows us to provide new options to help our intended parents create healthy, happy families.

Contact us to more about CSP, the surrogacy process, the available options for conception, and other important details.