Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Last week, I read an article in the TSE about the unveiling of a life-size-bust of Dr Thokchom Goberdhan Singh at his native village of Ningthoukhong. It was the culmination of the effort of his youngest daughter Binapani, who was 14 when her father died. A few years ago, Binapani and I approached Oinam Nabakishore, who was at that time, the first Manipuri Chief Secretary, for the installation of the statue. Nabakishore was also born at Ningthoukhong.
Last Sunday, I wrote death is not inevitable. Life expectancy at birth, currently in Manipur, is 69.51 years (men) and 72.59(women). Better than average Indians. In the 1960s it was about 52. Dr Goberdhon, the first Manipuri doctor died on February 6 1964 at his residence in Moirangkhom. He was 75 years old. I was the last doctor who attended him during his last 3 days and was present at the time of his demise. I kept him alive for three days. Dr Goberdhon was classic among doctor thrillers. His statuewill remind modernists and mavericks about his selfless service with his air of steely calm, of assured professionalism in helpingpeople blighted by poverty and diseases, both in the valley and the hills of Manipur. About his struggles, triumphs and defeats. Nothing scientific is beyond birth and death. It’s predicted a child born to day, will live for an average of 79 years. You’ll be able to design your babies say, with blue eyes and brown hair.‘Designer babies’ by genome editing is on the way, once the ethical problems have been sorted out. It’s only delayed as caution is required before embarking on such an unknown scientific project.A designer baby is a normal human embryo, which has been genetically modified.
The first Test Tube (IVF) baby, namedLouise Brownin Oldham near Manchester, was 40 years old and healthy on July 25 2018. Genetically modified babies are expected to constitute quite a leap from Louise Brown. You could choose your children to be free from inherited diseases. A geneticist in 1997 famously said: “We have enough imperfection built in already. Your child does not need anymore.” In July 2018, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in London, published a report that opened for dialogue to change the British law in future in order that parents could use genetic editing to “influence genetic characteristics of their child”. Scientists concluded that it could be “morally permissible” to genetically engineer human embryos. My gut feeling is, as human evolution has come to a standstill, we’ll have to design futurehumans,who otherwise, might be born with inherited diseases and disabilities due to environment causes.
Dr Patrick Robert at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, published his research in the journalNature Human Behaviourin July 2018: “Not only did Homo sapiens survived in harsh landscapes but thrived, learning to become ‘generalist specialists’. Many members of our Homo species, including Neanderthals and Homo erectus emerged from Africa three million years ago, and inhabited Spain, Georgia, China, Indonesia and Britain 700,000 years ago.”
“Recent evidence has shown that humans were in tougher climates far earlier. While other hominids stayed in their environments, Homo sapiens spread out, and by at least 45,000 years ago, they were rapidly colonising the world, managing to cross the deserts of northern Africa, the ArabianPeninsula and north-west India,” Robert continued. Prof Karen Yeung, chairman of Nuffield Council’s working party on genome editing and human reproduction, says:”While the idea would be to do so primarily to prevent a child from inheriting genetic diseases, scientists did not rule out cosmetic use to design a baby the way the parents want. While there is still uncertainty over the sort of things genome editing might be able to achieve […] we have concluded that the potential use of genome editing to influence the characteristics of future generations is not unacceptable in itself.”
Currently, genetic editing of human embryo is allowed only for 14 days in British law, and strictly for research. The embryo cannot be implanted into a womb and must be destroyed. But parents are now able to use the process of screening developed in the 80s, known as ‘pre-implantation genetic diagnosis’ (PGD) that enables those with a serious genetic disease to avoid passing to their children. PGD help to identify and locate genetic defects in early embryos that were conceived through IVF. This IVF procedure is carried out by the removal of one or two cells when the embryo is at a specific stage in development. This PGD procedures allow scientists to identify mutated or damaged genes associated with diseases in the embryos, by using a technique called ‘in-situ-hybridisation’ (ISH). This technique can identify specific nucleic acid sequences on a gene that can help to detect genetic abnormalities. It can thus help select desirable traits before implanting embryos with genes that have serious diseases. It can select eg, high intelligence or athletic muscle mass. Overall, this procedure is referred to as the creation of a ‘designer baby’. The first designer babies were created in 1989 and born in 1990 in America. It’s believed that in the next 20 years, parents could choose a variety of desirable babies. Dagan Wells at the University of Oxford, who pioneered the new technique of IVF, once said: “If you take a woman in her early 30s, around a quarter of her embryos will be abnormal. For a woman in her early 40s, it’s around three-quarters. The problem is that many abnormal embryos look normal under a microscope. We need better ways of working out which embryo is the one that we should implant.”
Robin Lovell-Badge at The Francis Crick Institute in northLondon,says: “The technique of crisp is extremely effective to study the role of specific genes in early development and causes of miscarriage. Scientists in other countries have gone further. There have been studies in China and the US, where they have tried to repair genes carrying mutations. There are now new techniques developed that might in future, be able to cut a disease carrying gene from an embryo’s DNA before it’s implanted in the womb.” Antagonists like Dusko Ilic at King’s College, London, claims:”People are afraid that crispr can make ‘designer babies, but there is no characteristic like height or eye colour that is based on just one gene.” He added: “We won’t know the consequences of genome editing before implantation,” citing that”a study by Wellcome Sanger Institute, which found the technology far more dangerous than previouslythought.”The technique, he said, caused extensive mutations in the DNA, which could lead to important genes being switched on and off, or potentially leading to serious conditions. Protagonists like Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of theCentre for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University, US, says, he is full of hope. Last year, he used Crisp to target a mutation in nuclear DNA that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common genetic heart disease. It was the first time scientists have successfully tested the method on donated clinical-quality human eggs. In the UK, though no genetically modified embryo has yet been transplanted in a womb, the first babies with the DNA of three people, where the DNA of a second woman is used to replace a faulty Code, are due later this year.
Some diseases are inherited from parents to their children, since genes are passed on spontaneously. Also any changes in the DNA within a gene (mutation) is also passed on. It may show up in a child of unaffected parents for the first time. The common inherited diseases we are familiar with are Down’s syndrome, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and Cystic fibrosis, to name a few. Diabetes that require insulin (Type 1) may also be inherited, especially if both parents are diabetic.
The essential techniques forpreventing such an inheritance by the offspring, consist of three procedures:(1) replacement of a mutated gene or inactivation of a mutated gene or introduction of a new gene; (2) gene doping, a procedure used to improve athletic ability for sporting events; and (3) injection of naked DNA ie modified DNA sequences. There are other studies that are currently underway. It’s said that, the European psyche is still scarred by the horrors of genocidal eugenics of the Nazi regime that planned to create a master Aryan race. They did gruesome medical experiments on Jews at the concentration camps. Europeans want a thorough discussion and a law that makes it sure that there will be no inequality. Robin Lovell Badge is famous for his discovery of the SRY gene located on the Y-chromosome, which is responsible for determining humans into male sex when the genes in an embryo are making decisions whether to sex it into male or female. He says: “There are a few individuals who say it’s a slippery slope. It’s a stupid argument because every technology can be used for good and evil. Sending children to private schools or undergoing cosmetic surgery amounts to the same thing.” I couldn’t agree more with him. An aeroplane is a good thing since sliced bread, to fly people from one place to another. It’s also wicked as it can carry nuclear bombsthat can destroy the entire humanity.
The writer is based in the UK.Email:irengbammsingh Website:www.drimsingh.co.uk
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh