Les thérapies géniques du meilleur des mondes ?

LONDRES – L'Autorité de Fertilisation Humaine et d'Embryologie du Royaume-Uni (HFEA) a ouvert un sondage public pour consulter l'opinion sur les nouvelles procédures médicales controversées visant à prévenir la transmission de maladies incurables, à partir de mutation sur les structures cellulaires appelées mitochondries. Les partisans de ce type de recherche présentent les critiques à son encontre comme autant d'obstacles au sauvetage de la vie d'enfants et au développement scientifique. Mais ce point de vue néglige un facteur crucial dans le débat : les techniques en cours de développement impliquent des altérations génétiques permanentes transmises aux générations futures.

Les mitochondries sont les « piles » qui produisent l'énergie de la cellule, contenant l'unique ADN externe au noyau cellulaire (37 gènes, soit environ 0,2% de la constitution génétique d'une personne). Étant donné que ces gènes sont contenus dans l'ovule et sont donc hérités seulement de la mère, les nouvelles techniques visent à remplacer les mitochondries mutées de la mère par celles d'une donneuse saine d'ovules sans mutation. Il en résulte des embryons contenant du matériel génétique provenant de trois personnes : le père de l'enfant, la mère, ainsi que la donneuse d'ovule.

La vraie question porte donc sur le sentiment de l'opinion publique à propos du franchissement de la ligne de démarcation entre les traitements médicaux pour des personnes existantes, et les altérations génétiques irréversibles qui seraient transmises aux générations futures par modification génétique de la lignée germinale humaine (la séquence de cellules germinales, comme par exemple le sperme et les ovules, contenant du matériel génétique dont l'enfant peut hériter).

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