Infertility procedure sparks controversy Transplanting of genes upsets medical ethicists


Doctors in New York have become the first to try to make an infertile woman pregnant by plucking the genes out of her egg and inserting them into a younger woman's egg from which its own genes have been removed. The resulting hybrid egg is then fertilized and placed into the older woman's womb.

Although the new technique has been described by its developer, Dr. James Grifo of New York University, as an effort to help women with long-standing infertility, other scientists have called it a step toward human cloning and said it raises troubling ethical and medical questions.

Grifo declined to be interviewed.

Lynn O'Dell, a spokeswoman for New York University, said the technique was intended to help older women, particularly those for whom in vitro fertilization had failed, to give birth to children who are their own genetic offspring. The only way some of those women can become pregnant is to use an egg donated by another woman.

Grifo reported at a medical conference Thursday that he and his colleagues had tried the new technique in just two patients so far. The first, 47, did not become pregnant, and the second, 44, had the procedure only last week.

The technique is based on the theory that many older women are infertile not because of problems with the DNA in their eggs but because of the age of the cytoplasm, which contains cell structures, chemicals and nutrients needed to support the egg's development.

Dr. Keith Latham, a developmental biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, said Grifo's technique might have unforeseen risks. Combining the cytoplasm of one woman's egg with another woman's genes could cause problems, Latham said.

"You're creating something here that never exists in nature," he said. "We have no idea what the potential is for birth defects, or problems in children in the next generation. It amounts to experimentation on humans."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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