First human embryos edited in United States through "CRISPR" technology

Kristen Gonzales
July 28, 2017

For the first time in the United States, scientists have edited the genes of human embryos, a controversial step toward someday helping babies avoid inherited diseases. The team didn't allow the embryos to develop for more than a couple of days, and they were never meant to be implanted into a womb. The publication first reported the news on Wednesday.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov is the first US -based scientist known to have edited the DNA of human embryos. With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring.

The research, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, head of OHSU's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy, involves a technology known as CRISPR that has opened up new frontiers in genetic medicine because of its ability to modify genes quickly and efficiently. In the U.S., this kind of research is much more controversial: there's even a ban on using National Institutes of Health funding for research using gene-editing technologies in human embryos.

Regardless, the research shows just how far gene editing has come - and makes the prospect of engineered, disease-free humans more science fact than science fiction.

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

But in February, a report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine said that clinical trials for gene editing of human reproductive cells "could be permitted in the future, but only for serious conditions under stringent oversight".

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"They significantly reduced mosaicism", explained one researcher, who chose to remain anonymous.

"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.

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.

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".

In the USA, any effort to turn an edited IVF embryo into a baby has been blocked by Congress, which added language to the Department of Health and Human Services funding bill forbidding it from approving clinical trials of the concept.

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

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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