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28 July 2017, 12:27 | Lucy Hill
First Human Embryos Edited in US
Pioneered by scientists elsewhere in the world, primarily in China, the gene editing technique known as CRISPR (short for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats"), a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health and Science University are the first known researchers to perform human embryo DNA modification in the United States.
It is important to note that none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days, and that the team never had any intention of implanting them into a womb.
"So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the U.S.", Jun Wu, who played a role in the project and is a collaborator at the Salk Institute, said to MIT.
Until now, the only three published reports of human embryo gene editing were from researchers in China. In previous attempts by Chinese scientists, CRISPR caused an editing error wherein the DNA changes they made were only taken up by some, not all, of the cells the embryos developed. The study has demonstrated that it is possible to safely correct abnormal genes that cause hereditary diseases, and used quite a number of human embryos to experiment on.
Mitalipov has always been pioneer in embryo research. Interestingly, Chinese researchers have found it hard to get the genetic changes in every cell of the embryos that they seek edit. But Mitalipov was able to "significantly" reduce mosaicism, according to MIT Technology Review.
"It is proof of principle that it can work". 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".
The approach holds great potential to avoid many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of "designer babies" if done for less lofty reasons, such as producing desirable traits. Technology Review could not determine which disease genes had been chosen for editing. He created the first cloned monkeys in 2007 and in 2013 created the first human embryonic stem cells through cloning.
The need for it is clear, he added: "Our research has suggested that there are far more disease-associated mutations in the general public than was previously suspected".
There are many concerns around genetically engineering humans.
Currently, any effort to turn an edited human embryo into a baby in the United States is banned by Congress.
Despite such barriers, the creation of a gene-edited person could be attempted at any moment, including by IVF clinics operating facilities in countries where there are no such legal restrictions.
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