Arizona State University Associate Professor Diana Bowman has been selected by the Carnegie Corporation of New York as one of 31 recipients of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie fellowships.
Selected from a field of roughly 300 finalists, Bowman proposed a groundbreaking study on the ethical and legal issues presented by a new type of reproductive technology called mitochondrial donation, which results in “three-parent families,” as the baby contains DNA from three individuals.
Each year, the Carnegie program seeks nominations from more than 600 leaders representing a range of universities, think tanks, publishers, independent scholars and nonprofit organizations nationwide. Jurors are asked to consider the merits of each proposal based on its originality, promise and potential impact on a particular field of scholarship.
Bowman said it was an honor just to be chosen as ASU’s nominee for the fellowship, and she was stunned to be selected by the Carnegie Corporation.
“I think I’m still in a state of shock,” she said. “I never thought that I had a realistic chance at actually winning one of the fellowships. So I was shocked, overwhelmed, delighted. Excited more so for everybody who’s helped me get to where I am today. I see this award as a team honor, not an individual honor. I’ve had some of the most amazing mentors and teachers in my career, so I really felt as much about recognition of all their work and support rather than just my own.”
Bowman explained mitochondrial donation as a new frontier in assistive reproductive technology.
“We’ve had test-tube babies now for nearly 40 years, so it’s just an advance of that technology,” she said. “What’s really exciting about mitochondrial donation is that it, for the first time, allows clinicians with a way of creating healthy babies for women who otherwise would pass a mitochondrial disease on to their biological child."
"Mitochondrial diseases are passed through the female line, and there is no cure for them," Bowman said. "Children who are born with mitochondrial diseases will have varying degrees of health challenges, with mitochondrial diseases coming in many forms. The diseases can be treated but not cured. The symptoms of the diseases are often painful and they’re challenging — economically, emotionally, and socially — for the family. Mitochondrial donation allows you to remove the ‘defective’ mitochondria from the female, which is then replaced with ‘healthy’ mitochondria from a female donor. In doing so, you create an embryo that has the DNA from three people. And that’s where it gets challenging.”
Each recipient of the Carnegie fellowship receives up to $200,000 to devote to their research. Bowman’s project, a two-year study, will examine the ethical, legal and social implications of mitochondrial donation. She will talk to officials, focus groups, members of the public and affected families in the United Kingdom (where the technology is legal), the United States (where it is not) and elsewhere, trying to get an accurate sense of people’s hopes and concerns.
Bowman wears several hats at ASU, serving as the associate dean for international engagement at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, tenured associate professor and associate director for students at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, and co-director of the Center for Smart Cities and Regions.
“This fellowship is a tremendous honor, and validation of the brilliant work that Professor Bowman has done throughout her career,” said Douglas Sylvester, dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. “There’s nobody better suited to examine the complex issues — legal, political and ethical — surrounding mitochondrial donation.”
Bowman will continue to hold her leadership positions and teach at ASU, and she says there’s no better way to teach than by involving students in research programs. She plans to have several students assisting with the study.
“Professor Bowman has had an incredibly productive — and still young — career, focused on understanding, analyzing and explaining the ethical, legal and social implications of new and emerging technologies,” said Dave Guston, founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “With this opportunity to devote concentrated effort to the study of mitochondrial donation and the creation of so-called ‘three-parent families,’ she will no doubt produce a thoughtful, creative and compelling assessment that will make scholars and policy makers alike take notice.”
What will the next two years be like for Bowman?
“Busy,” she said with a laugh. “I currently get up at around 4 o’clock in the morning to start work. I could see 3:30 might be the new normal. I think anybody who’s an academic realizes we don’t work just 40 hours a week. But what we do, we love. And this is a project that I’m passionate about, so I will find the time to do this as well as everything else.”