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Human embryo under a microscope on blue background

Researchers at Columbia University in New York have created embryos containing genetic material from three people and are ready to use them to start pregnancies. But they’re at a legal impasse.

At a public forum at Harvard Law School on Wednesday, Dietrich Egli, assistant professor of developmental cell biology at Columbia, said his team has used a controversial technique called mitochondrial replacement therapy to make embryos for four female patients. The women are all carriers of genetic disorders that are passed down through maternal mitochondria, the energy-generating organelles inside cells.

The embryos cannot be transferred into a woman’s uterus because of a 2015 congressional amendment that forbids the Food and Drug Administration from considering human research applications “in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.”

For now, Egli said, the embryos have been frozen. “They would be ready for transfer if a legal path could be found,” he said.

Wednesday’s event at Harvard was the first in a series of meetings meant to draft policy recommendations with the goal of persuading U.S....