Designer Babies: Gore and Topol on Fetal Genome Sequencing

; Al Gore

| Disclosures | March 07, 2014
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Editor's Note:
Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric Topol, MD, recently spoke with former Vice President Al Gore about his book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. In this segment, Mr. Gore addresses the pros and cons of fetal genome sequencing and explains his concern that this technology could be used to create so-called designer babies.

Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello. I'm Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape, and I am here with a One-on-One interview with former Vice President Al Gore. We're going to be talking about fetal genome sequencing and designer babies.

In your book you write about fetal genome sequencing, which was a big breakthrough. We can now obviate the need for amniocentesis; it's just remarkable. But it also circles back to the question of what do you do with the information? Will it lead to designer babies? What are your thoughts about that?

Al Gore: I have many thoughts about it. We all should be paying attention to this, because some of the choices that parents will now have are benign, nonsignificant outcomes -- blue eyes, black hair, whatever. But if we make choices that affect not only the individual but also the germline, and introduce changes into generations stretching far into the future, we need to be pretty careful that we understand the full implications of those choices. And what we're currently seeing is a determination to make those choices even though we don't understand what the implications are.

The ethics of not making these choices are so clear that nobody is going to argue with it. But we see things like parental competition and what it's done to the test-preparation industry. We see competition that has driven too many kids to take these [ADHD] concentration-enhancing drugs that many doctors say can have really harmful side effects, and all because the competitive pressures drive them in that direction. And if we are allowed trait selection choices that have competitive implications, you bet some parents are going to feel real pressure and desire to make those choices. They need to be informed of the risks by physicians and geneticists who have had an adequate amount of time and opportunity to really understand the full implications of these choices.

Dr. Topol: I give you special credit; not only do you talk about this issue in your book, but as a Senate subcommittee chair, you pushed to understand the ethics, social implications, and legal aspects of the Human Genome Project. We have to continue to fund and support these implications in genomics.

This has been a fantastic interview. We've had the chance to get some unique perspectives from former Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. Gore: Thanks for your kind words, and if you continue to be willing to teach me, I'll keep on trying to learn.

Dr. Topol: Thank you. We look forward to more really interesting interviews in subsequent Medscape One-on-Ones.

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Authors and Disclosures


Eric J. Topol, MD

Director, Scripps Translational Science Institute; Chief Academic Officer, Scripps Health; Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape

Disclosure: Eric J. Topol, MD, has disclosed the following relevant financial relationships:
Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant, or trustee for: AltheaDX; AT&T; Biological Dynamics; Cypher Genomics (Co-founder); Dexcom; GenapSys; Gilead Sciences, Inc.; Illumina, Inc.; Portola Pharmaceuticals; Quest Diagnostics; Sotera Wireless; Volcano; Walgreen Company
Received research grant from: National Institutes of Health; Qualcomm Foundation

Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore is co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management. He is a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a member of Apple, Inc.'s board of directors. Gore spends the majority of his time as chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit organization he founded that is focused on solutions for the global climate crisis.

Gore was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982 and the US Senate in 1984 and 1990. He was inaugurated as the forty-fifth Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1993, and served 8 years.

He is the author of the bestsellers Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault on Reason, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, and most recently, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. He is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary and is the co-recipient, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for "informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change."

Former Vice President Gore was born on March 31, 1948, and resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Disclosure: Former Vice President Al Gore has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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