U.S. scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

U.S. scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

In December 2015, scientists and ethicists at an global meeting held at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington said it would be "irresponsible" to use gene editing technology in human embryos for therapeutic purposes, such as to correct genetic diseases, until safety and efficacy issues are resolved.

Led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a team of scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos, according to a report published Wednesday on the MIT Technology Review.

Scientists in China have attempted the same experiments on human embryos, to mixed results.

A person familiar with the research says "many tens" of human IVF embryos were created for the experiment using the donated sperm of men carrying inherited disease mutations.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop beyond a few days, this breakthrough has meant scientists are now one step closer to achieving the birth of genetically modified human beings.

Scientists wanted to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like thalassemia. If such a genetically modified child were born, they would pass on the edited changes in their DNA to subsequent generations.

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A team of USA researchers for the first time ever edited human embryo DNA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Tech Review revealed Wednesday.

Mitalipov's group appears to have overcome earlier difficulties by "getting in early" and injecting CRISPR into the eggs at the same time they were fertilized with sperm. The U.S. intelligence community said a year ago that the CRISPR editing technique was a potential "weapon of mass destruction".

The approach has been used previously to edit the HBB gene responsible for a condition called β-thalassaemia.

Speaking to Technology Review, a scientist familiar with the project said: 'It is proof of principle that it can work.

Mitalipov did not confirm the results of the test, telling the MIT Technology Review that they are still "pending publication". Until the numbers are published, it will not be clear to what extent this reduced mosaicism. Along with the National Academy of Medicine, the academy stated that scientific advances make gene editing in human reproductive cells "a realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration".

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