Should Gene Editing In Human Embryos Be Allowed?

Scientists genetically a modify human embryo for the first time

As reported by MIT Technology Review, the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days; there was no intention of implanting them into a womb. "So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the USA", says Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who played a role in the project.

Still, Mitalipov's work marks a milestone for the United States-the second country to successfully edit human embryos, after China.

By now, most of us know what CRISPR gene editing is. A bioethical firestorm erupted in 2015 when researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University announced that they had tried to use CRISPR to correct the genes for the blood disease beta-thalassemia in 86 human embryos.

Mitalipov has always been pioneer in embryo research. They also avoided another problem: in experiments in China, the desired DNA changes were picked up only by some cells, not all the cells of an embryo - an effect called mosaicism.

And earlier this year in the US, the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine said in a report that altering the genes of embryos might be OK if done under strict criteria and aimed at preventing serious disease.




A scientist who is familiar with the project but chose to remain anonymous said: "It is proof of principle that it can work".

The news follows a report earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, which essentially gave a green light to researchers to use gene editing to treat or prevent inherited disease.

"If America were to take the lead both in terms of working with journals, working with private foundations, with patient groups, and working with state and federal government, I think you'd get collaboration from the rest of the world", Caplan says. He created the first cloned monkeys in 2007 and in 2013 created the first human embryonic stem cells through cloning.

The tool-considered by some a "genetic superweapon" and others as the single most important discovery of the 21st century-may be a cure for cancer, the flu, or AIDS; it could be used to wipe out all mosquitoes or create hyper-intelligent babies. It's unclear what illnesses were involved exactly, but they used sperm donated by subjects with various inheritable diseases. "Genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people", said Alta Charo, co-chair of the NAS's study committee and professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Steve Connor is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.

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