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Doctors Weigh in on So-Called "Designer Babies" Debate

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The FDA is weighing whether to allow the cells from three different people to create a healthy baby. Health Reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.

It's been a topic of debate over the past few weeks. Should the FDA allow scientists to alter the mitochondria in a mother's egg in order to produce a healthy baby?

The procedure would remove mutated mitochondria - essentially a cell's power source - from the egg, theoretically preventing the child from having a mitochondrial disease.

"Instead of getting like a whole donor egg, you get the mitochondria or that part of the egg that contains the mitochondria," says NYU Langone OBGYN Department Chair Dr. David Keefe.

The procedure is also being considered for women with infertility issues that may be caused by mutated mitochondria.

NYU Langone Fertility specialist Dr. David Keefe, helped pioneer the technique being used and sits on the advisory panel that consults with the FDA committee handling the approval of these procedures. It was performed successfully in monkeys but there are still many lingering questions.

"The monkeys are just newly born. So we'd like to see did they grow up normally, do they behave normally and probably more importantly do they behave normally in a realistic environment," says Dr. Keefe.

The complexities of humans raises even more what ifs.

"Humans are of course very different than most animal species because we even have types of personalities and friends and enemies. We are very attuned to those subtleties which are impossible to test precisely in animals," explains Dr. Keefe.

There's also concern that approval of this technique could lead humanity down a slippery slope.

"What happens if somebody says, 'You know I'd like to do gene transplant too or genetic engineering, I want a smarter kid or a taller kid, or a kid with musical aptitude.' How do we draw the line there?" says NYU Langone Medical Ethics Division Director Dr. Art Caplan.

Dr. Caplan says the procedure shouldn't be prohibited for fear of a future filled with genetically engineered super people, but also offers a word of caution.

"If you're going to try and limit what you can do in the name of genetic engineering just to fixing diseases which is what this mitochondria thing is the time to start to form that limit is now," he says.

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