Designer baby revolution less than two years away, research suggests

Controversy was sparked last year when the first genetically modified babies were produced in China Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The “ethically sound” creation of so-called designer babies could begin within two years and spark a revolution in genetic modification, according to new research.

Kevin Smith, from Abertay University in Dundee, has published analysis that found the risks of gene editing are now low enough to warrant its use with human embryos.

He argued a morally justifiable attempt could be less than two years away and predicted such research could kick-start a revolution in producing genetically-modified (GM) people.

"Technology to genetically modify human embryos really opens up a whole range of benefits that we can't really conceivably attain any other way," Dr Smith told ITV News.

He said, firstly, they could address severe disorders and to allow parents "who would otherwise create children who would have those disorders to have disease-free children".

He did concede that presently it could not be guaranteed that "inappropriate" use of the techniques would not be attempted to produce so-called designer babies - such has choosing eye colour or hair colour.

However, Dr Smith said it would be "ethically unwise to stop a nascent technology in its tracks when it holds great medical benefits".

He added: "So yes, there are certain dangers and we should be cautious when we get to those points as to how as a society we handle these possible downsides but at the moment they are for the future and I certainly do not think it is ethically defensible to suggest that we do not proceed now simply because of certain dystopian future."

Dr Smith earlier said: “The human germline is by no means perfect, with evolution having furnished us with rather minimal protection from diseases that tend to strike in our later years, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.

“GM techniques offer the prospect of protecting future people against these and other common disorders.

“This has previously been achieved to an extent in GM experiments on animals.

“If several common disorders could be avoided or delayed by genetically modifying humans, the average disease-free lifespan could be substantially extended.”

The academic, who is programme leader for Abertay’s biomedical science courses, said research in this area would offer hope to parents at risk of transmitting serious genetic disease to their future children.

He warned an ethical approach must be at the heart of any advances if public trust is to be won.

The paper is published in the medical ethics journal Bioethics.