U.S. scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

Francis Osborne
July 28, 2017

Basically, a genetic scalpel, CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat) allows users to slice parts of DNA in living cells to remove existing genes or add new ones.

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

USA researchers have successfully carried out gene editing on human embryos using the revolutionary technique known as CRISPR, the first time the procedure has been performed in the USA, a report said Thursday. The scientists had no plans to actually allow them to develop, but the work is a significant step forward for those who support continued development of CRISPR and the eventual implementation of the technique to correct flaws in embryos carried to full term.

The first experiment using CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos, in 2015, used embryos obtained from fertility clinics that had such serious genetic defects they could never have developed.

He is the first researcher to ever conclusively demonstrate that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases. Modifying an embryo to eradicate heritable diseases is called "germline engineering", because the child born from that embryo will pass on the changes with his or her germ (egg or sperm) cells.

But many are opposed to these types of experiments, including religious, civil society and biotech groups.

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"So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the United States", said Jun Wu from the Salk Institute in the U.S., who was involved in the project.

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. Without implantation, embryos can not develop into babies.

'I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before'.

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.

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. With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring. 'They significantly reduced mosaicism.

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