Scientists edit human embryos for first time in US

The technology could used to give IVF embryos 'beneficial' genetic traits such as better eyesight

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

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

The research done at Oregon Health and Science University did not allow the human embryos to develop for more than a few days.

Some countries have signed a pact to prohibit the practice for the reason that this could lead to the creation of so-called designer babies.

"The results of this study will be published soon in a scientific journal".

One prominent genetics expert, Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said gene editing of embryos is "an unstoppable, inevitable science, and this is more proof it can be done". The technology works as a kind of scissors that can snip selected, unwanted parts of the genome, replacing these with new DNA.


"This is the kind of research that is essential if we are to know if it's possible to safely and precisely make corrections" in embryos' DNA to fix disease-causing genes", legal scholar and bioethicist R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told STAT. His lab was the first to successfully clone primate embryos in 2007, and in 2013 his team created the first patient-specific human embryonic stem cells from cloning.

Up until now, reports about human-related gene editing usually come from outside the U.S. China, in particular, hasn't been holding back when it comes to CRISPR experimentation.

However, the work was later reviewed by researchers at another institution and the findings were brought into question.

But many are opposed to these types of experiments, including religious, civil society and biotech groups. 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. But Mitalipov was able to "significantly" reduce mosaicism, according to MIT Technology Review.

Somewhat prophetically, Perry's paper on the research, published at the end of 2014, said, "This or analogous approaches may one day enable human genome targeting or editing during very early development".

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".

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