The United Kingdom's House of Commons recently voted to allow British researchers to pursue a controversial new fertility treatment intended to help women avoid passing on certain genetic defects to their children.
The technique, "mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy," has the ability to alter the DNA of an embryo so children are born free of mitochondrial disease – an illness affecting nearly 4,000 U.S. children each year.
Experts are now debating whether this form of gene therapy should be allowed in the United States, but critics say the procedure brings forth far too many safety and ethical concerns. To this end, an ad-hoc committee of the Institute of Medicine is exploring genetic modification as it relates to ethical and social policy issues.
Among the committee's members is Keith Wailoo, vice dean and Townsend Martin Progress of History and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, who will provide the committee with a keen perspective as one of its only health historians.
In addition to the social and ethical implications of gene manipulation, the committee will also address how to conduct clinical trials to test out the new technique and how the trials might be conducted ethically. In 2016, the committee will present a form report to the Federal Drug Administration.
As part of their project, the committee will host a series of workshops to garner the opinions of the public. The next workshop, which will be webcast live, is on March 31 and April 1 in Washington, D.C.
The committee brings together national experts from higher education, health-related institutes and foundations focused on advocacy. For a full listing of committee members, click here.
For more information on the committee's objectives, click here.