IMAGINE being told your baby has been born with a life-limiting genetic disease.
This is the tragic reality for the parents of 30,000 babies born in the UK every year.
We have seen only recently how devastating a diagnosis like this can be, with the heartbreaking story of Charlie Gard generating headlines worldwide.
The 11-month-old died last week from a genetic condition called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome 13, which triggers progressive muscle weakness and eventual brain damage.
It is cases like Charlie’s motivating scientists all over the world to further understand our genetic make-up in the hope we could one day eradicate, or at least treat, all diseases relating to our genes.
That is why yesterday’s breakthrough news is a huge step in the right direction.
Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University in the US successfully snipped away faulty DNA in 42 out of 58 embryos which had a predisposition to a potentially fatal heart condition.
They used gene editing technique CRISPR which, when injected into an egg along with a sperm, acts like DNA spell-check software to find a specific faulty gene and replace it with a healthy version.
This would theoretically allow a baby to be born without hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the biggest cause of sudden death.
The technique’s recent success gives hope to scientists — and to families who have experienced heartbreak through the generations after losing relatives to genetic diseases.
But we need to be absolutely sure it is safe and the benefits outweigh the risks.
Critics fear scientists will soon be creating tall, good-looking, intelligent and very athletic “designer babies”.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are strict regulations which ensure experiments like this are carried out in highly controlled environments.
The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) has tight testing requirements that ensure it will only be rolled out if proven medically worthwhile.
And laws have to be passed before it could be offered at all in the UK and on the NHS.
Besides, we still know very little about what our genes do and which genes are linked to which physical and mental traits.
There are hundreds of genes linked to height and thousands linked to intelligence.
We would not know where to begin when tasked with producing a “designer” baby.
And we have little motivation to do so anyway.