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Expert panel recommends ban on creation of ‘designer babies’


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With concerns growing over gene-editing technology in humans, Japan is planning to ban creation of so-called “designer babies” out of safety concerns and possible effects on future generations.

A health ministry expert panel report outlined on Dec. 4 recommended that legal restrictions or guidelines be set to prohibit implant of genetically modified fertilized human eggs into the uterus.

In Japan, there are guidelines banning research involving such procedures. However, no regulations have been set for returning the modified eggs back to the uterus.

Gene editing is a technology that can transmit modified genetic information. It has been used in agriculture and fisheries as well as developing food products since a new genome-editing technology that is far easier to apply than the previous one made available in 2012.

But experts have voiced concerns over the application of genome modification to humans, citing possible creation of designer babies, whose genes have been modified to artificially enhance, for example, their appearance and intelligence.

As a result, the Expert Panel on Bioethics with the Cabinet Office called on the government in June to consider creating a system that regulates the implantation, including a law banning the clinical application.

The expert panel with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare concluded that such implanting should not be allowed.

It warned that the safety of implanting genetically modified fertilized human eggs into the uterus has yet to be ensured and that genetically modified babies could affect their offspring for generations.

But the panel did not oppose basic research on gene editing that does not involve implanting in the uterus to develop a therapy to treat hereditary diseases.

It also said the panel will continue considering the possibility of clinical application of genome modification based on advances in gene-editing technology and an understanding from the public.

A Chinese scientist came under heavy criticism from the global community after he announced in November 2018 that he had successfully created genetically modified babies with embryos that are edited to make them resistant to HIV.

He was denounced as the technology posed many safety and ethical problems, as well as the availability of other ways to prevent the HIV infection. China bans the application of genetic modifying for non-therapeutic purposes under the guideline and is now considering enacting a law to prohibit it.

France, Germany and Britain outlaw clinical use of genetically modified fertilized human eggs.

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