Scientists Take Big Step Toward ‘Artificial Womb’ to Save Premature Babies

Doctors could use “artificial wombs” to save premature babies, according to new research published by scientists with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The study, published Tuesday, successfully kept unborn lambs alive in an artificial womb with nutrient-rich liquids. Lambs raised using the artificial wombs were normal in every way scientists could measure. Baby lambs developed to the age equivalent of 23-week-old human babies.

Scientists say the technology can be used to keep more premature babies alive. Scientists plan to begin trials on human babies within three to five years.

“This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can currently do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability,” Dr. Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study, said in a press statement.

“These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world. If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,” Flake said. (Read more from “Scientists Take Big Step Toward ‘Artificial Womb’ to Save Premature Babies” HERE)

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Designer Babies and the Chilling Echoes of Eugenics

What if we could use science to eliminate disease, deformity, and mental disabilities? What if the tools of modern technology could make us smarter, stronger, and more beautiful?

What if we could put an end, once and for all, to every mother’s fear that their child might be born with something not quite right?

These are the questions Chinese researchers are trying to answer. They’ve recently announced a breakthrough in using genetic engineering to remove certain defects in human embryos responsible for congenital conditions. This should be good news, right? After all, what is science for, if not to help us live longer, healthier, and more productive lives? The problem is, this kind of thinking has taken hold in America once before, and with disastrous consequences.

In the early 20th century, science was all the rage. Educated men thought they could use their superior knowledge to improve the human race. What a noble endeavor! With knowledge of genetics recently having come into prominence thanks to the works of Charles Darwin, college professors and men of science were eager to apply the findings in a practical way. If traits are passed down from generation to generation, they reasoned, then the species can be improved by choosing only to pass down good traits, while screening out bad ones. This process was known as eugenics, and its proponents included many well-respected people, most notably President Woodrow Wilson, the only president ever to hold a doctoral degree.

But how do you stop people with “undesirable” traits from breeding and passing them on to future generations? Easy, by forced sterilization. In the same way you would neuter a dog to keep it from reproducing, state governments across America passed laws permitting the forced sterilization of people deemed to be insane, feebleminded, deformed, or otherwise posing a menace to the health of the species. This frequently included criminals, as criminality was at the time believed to be an inherited characteristic. All told, 60,000 Americans lost their right to reproduce at the hands of a scientific community that insisted it could improve mankind.

Ultimately, the horrors of the Nazi movement in Germany, which took eugenics to extremes undreamt of by most Americans, soured the national appetite for forced sterilization. By the mid-1970s the practice came to an end even in mental institutions, but the Supreme Court decision finding such sterilization constitutional has never been overturned.

Now, what does this have to do with the Chinese research on embryos? Surely such direct manipulation of the egg will result in more healthy reproduction, not less, and requires no interference with individual freedoms, right? Don’t be so sure.

Imagine a world where, for the right price, you can guarantee that your children won’t have any genetic defects, that they will be tall, strong, resistant to disease, symmetrical, and intelligent, all through a simple medical procedure. Now imagine that not everyone can afford this procedure. What do you think will happen after a couple of generations? The “normal” people, unaltered by genetic modification, will not possibly be able to compete with the supermen and women created by science. They will be inferior in every way, and thus ineligible for the best jobs, unable to keep up in the best schools, and forget about sports or any kind of athletic competition. Social mobility will not be an option, and their children will be doomed to the same fate, a permanent underclass at the mercy of their betters.

How long could such a system persist? How long before the genetically inferior humans become mere leeches dependent on state charity, or else utilized as menial slaves for everyone else, or perhaps be outright forbidden from procreating? It sounds like science fiction, but it’s a simple and logical progression from a system that allows some people to be dramatically improved by genetic engineering while others are left behind.

Aside from these practical concerns, there are any number of moral and ethical problems with tinkering with human life. Modern medicine has indeed done wonders for our way of life, but there is a good reason why many governments have banned human cloning and other such genetic experiments. Blind allegiance to science without stopping to consider broader philosophical questions of humanity, liberty, and justice, can only end badly, as history has taught us on more than one occasion. Engineering works great for building bridges; It’s much less advisable for designing societies. (For more from the author of “Designer Babies and the Chilling Echoes of Eugenics” please click HERE)

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The Rate of Babies Born Addicted to Opioids Is Skyrocketing

The rate of babies born addicted to opioids increased by 538 percent between 2006 and 2015 in Missouri, according to a disturbing new study warning the problem is rapidly getting worse.

At least eight in every 1,000 babies born will now suffer opioid withdrawals in the state, according to a report released by the Missouri Hospital Association Tuesday. Medical experts say the situation is rapidly deteriorating, driven by the national opioid epidemic and the continued over-prescribing of pain medication to expecting mothers, reports Fox 4.

Babies born with opioid dependence are more prone to seizures, will have trouble feeding and cry excessively in their first few days.

“I think it goes back to how we’ve been prescribing opioids to adults particularly to pregnant mothers,” Dr. Krishna Dummula, a neonatologist at the University of Kansas Hospital, told Fox 4. “The threshold to treat pain has dramatically gone down over the years, which is why you’ve seen a five-fold increase in the amount of expecting mothers being on opioid medications of some sort.”

Officials in some states are moving to place greater limits on the number of opioids doctors are allowed to prescribe and a stricter system for tracking patients, in an effort to limit doctor shopping. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland is the latest to signal he will press the legislature for a bill placing limits on the number of opioid prescriptions a doctor can write. (Read more from “The Rate of Babies Born Addicted to Opioids Is Skyrocketing” HERE)

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First Baby Born With Controversial ‘Three-Parent’ Technique

A technique to make “three-parent babies” was voted into law by the British Parliament in February 2015, but it wasn’t a “three-parent” baby born in the UK that made an ethical splash heard around the world — it was a baby boy born to a Jordanian couple treated in Mexico by a team of U.S. doctors. This procedure, called mitochondrial replacement therapy, is not legal in the U.S., so Dr. John Zhang and his team at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City traveled to Mexico to treat the Jordanian woman.

The woman, identified as Ibtisam Shaban, has Leigh syndrome, which is a fatal disease affecting the developing nervous system, reported the New Scientist. The genes for Leigh syndrome are in the mitochondrial DNA of the mother. While Shaban did not exhibit symptoms of Leigh syndrome, she lost her first two children to the disease at ages six and eight months.

The procedure used to produce the baby, Abrahim Hassan, is surrounded by a flurry of ethical questions. In his case, Dr. Zhang removed the nucleus (which houses the majority of a person’s DNA) and placed it in the “shell” of a donor’s egg containing healthy mitochondria DNA. Another technique is to fertilize both the mother’s egg and the donor egg with the father’s sperm, then replace the donor’s nucleus with the mother’s. This technique destroys one embryo. While the mitochondrial transfer procedure is being hailed as a great accomplishment for those who have or are treating mitochondrial diseases, it also raises several serious ethical questions.

Altering the Germ Line

A child with mitochondrial DNA therapy will have DNA from three people, hence the term “three-parent babies.” Since mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, females with three parents will permanently alter the “germ line” by passing the altered DNA to their children and so on. Dr Trevor Stammers, Program Director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St. Mary’s University, said, “Even if these babies are born they will have to be monitored all their lives, and their children will have to be as well. We do not yet know the interaction between the mitochondria and nuclear DNA. To say that it is the same as changing a battery is facile. It’s an extremely complex thing.”

Playing God

Some have charged that experimenting with DNA is “playing God,” and producing “genetically-modified” humans. “These regulations would authorize the crossing of a rubicon for the first time,” said British MP Fiona Bruce who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group. “It would authorize germ line therapy… to alter the genes of an individual. This is something defined by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as effectively constituting eugenics.”

Only Boys Allowed

At this time, the procedure is only recommended to produce male embryos, since mitochondrial diseases are passed down through females. According to Science News, the Institute of Medicine in the United States determined “it would be ethical to produce male embryos using the technique,” but as of this year federal laws still prohibit the method. This means that female embryos would be destroyed in search of a male who would not pass on mitochondrial diseases to future generations.

Risk of Crossing Ethical Boundaries

British MP Jacob Rees Mogg said once the lines have been crossed, there’s no going back. “I think the difficulty is that it starts a process which is very hard to see where it stops,” he said. “Once the germ line is changed at one point you decide that isn’t allowable in other cases … there is a very clear boundary that babies cannot be genetically altered. And once you have decided that they can you have done something very profound.” Bruce concurs, “We … have approved a technique and what that technique could be used for in the future who knows,” she said. “We’re opening a Pandora’s box.”

The concerns around what amounts to having two mothers could present a problem in the future as child custody battles grow increasingly complicated, even as same-sex couples fight for custody of a child who biologically belongs to only one of them. Others worry that the legalizing of this technique will lead to creating “designer babies” on demand. While scientists may not be able to select a preferred eye color or hair color now, selecting embryos based on sex is already being done. Selecting other desired characteristics is only a matter of time. Once the laws are in place to perform mitochondrial DNA transfers in the U.S., the question of designer babies will be a nonissue.

Genetic Abnormalities

Perhaps one of the most alarming findings has to do with the very real possibility of genetic abnormalities for the three-parent babies. “There are numerous serious risks associated with this technology,” said Dr. Paul Knoepfler, Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis. “These include most notably the possibility that developmentally disabled or deceased babies will be produced. Aberrations could lead to developmental defects in babies or also manifest in later life as increased rates of aging [or] cancer.”

Dr. Knoepfler’s concerns are hardly unreasonable. In the early 1990s, embryologists in the U.S. performed a similar technique involving DNA from three people and the results were unsuccessful. The babies who were born later developed genetic disorders, including two infants born with a missing X chromosome and two who later had serious developmental disorders. The practice was banned after the problems were discovered.

Even with the mitochondrial DNA therapy there are no guarantees that the baby will be born without the mitochondrial disease the parents were hoping to avoid. Scientists are aware of mitochondrial carryover during nuclear transfer, also known as Genetic Drift — that is, the mitochondrial DNA of the mother carrying the disease could still carryover to the created embryo and eventually take over anyway, as reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Professor Mary Herbert of Newcastle University commented that “we don’t know what it means for development, but it’s alerted us to the fact that we really need to work hard to get as close to zero carry-over as we can.”

Following the UK’s legalization of the procedure, MEPs wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling the practice “unethical.” In an open letter, the group warned Cameron that EU law prohibited genetic alterations that will carry on to the next generation. “Your proposals violate the fundamental standards of human dignity and integrity of the person,” they wrote. “Modification of the genome is unethical and cannot be permitted.” The Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) said it was “a historic mistake” and warned the technique “will turn children into biological experiments.”

CGS added, “… [T]hey will result in children with DNA from three different people in every cell of their bodies, which will impact a large range of traits in unknowable ways, and introduce genetic changes that will be passed down to future generations through the female line.” (For more from the author of “First Baby Born With Controversial ‘Three-Parent’ Technique” please click HERE)

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Bioethicist: ‘We Have Commodified…Babies and Baby Parts’ [+video]

“Have we reached a point in our society where there effectively is an for human parts, entire babies?” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) asked the witnesses at a special hearing on bioethics and fetal tissue on Wednesday.

Dr. Gerard Kevin Donovan, a pediatrician and bioethicist at Georgetown University, responded that the practice of using tissue from aborted babies for government-funded research “shocks my conscience and it should shock the conscience of the nation.”

“You know, we have commodified what have been referred to as the ‘products of conception’ — I mean, babies and baby parts. And yes, they are for sale, supposedly to cover one’s costs, but those costs seem to be quite variable,” Donovan said.

“But even if they were given away free, it is shocking to be ordering what you want: ‘Can I have a boy fetus, or a girl fetus or a brain or a heart or a liver? . . .

Paige Comstock Cunningham, who heads The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, told the panel, “My concern is that researchers have come to count on induced abortion for their research…What have we come to where researchers need induced abortion to do their research?” (Read more from “Bioethicist: ‘We Have Commodified…Babies and Baby Parts'” HERE)

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Amazing Video Shows Babies ‘SINGING’ in the Womb

Unborn babies are able to hear in the womb at just 16 weeks gestation, a new study has revealed.

For the first time scientists at the Institut Marques in Barcelona have shown a fetus is able to detect sounds, and furthermore, that they respond by moving their mouths and tongues.

It is accepted that an unborn baby’s ear is fully developed at week 16 of a pregnancy.

But, until now experts did not believe a fetus could hear until week 18, at the earliest but more commonly nearer 26 weeks.

Dr Marisa Lopez-Teijon, who led the study, said the findings show a fetus responds to music transmitted intravaginally by moving their mouth and tongue, ‘as if they were trying to speak or sing’. (Read more from “Amazing Video Shows Babies ‘SINGING’ in the Womb” HERE)

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