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In 1990 W. French Anderson became the first person to attempt authorized somatic gene transfer experiments on humans. In 1998 he proposed to begin in utero somatic gene transfer experiments and in the process, in his words, "push the envelope" on inheritable genetic modification.

Specifically, Anderson asked the NIH's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) to review a draft proposal asking for permission to begin somatic gene transfer experiments on fetuses in utero that had been shown by prenatal tests to be afflicted with a fatal childhood genetic disease, adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency. The proposed gene transfer procedure was intended to get corrective genes into a fetus' system at a stage early enough to prevent the defective genes from inflicting developmental harm on the fetus. However, gene transfer at early developmental stages poses a "high risk" that some of the transferred genes would locate in precursor egg and sperm cells, and thus alter inheritable genes.

Anderson has been a vocal advocate of inheritable genetic modification for therapeutic purposes. In his draft proposal he freely acknowledged the possibility of "inadvertent"...