Medicine

OHSU conducting human gene editing research

OHSU conducting human gene editing research

In December 2015, a group of global scientists and ethicists, including some from China, assembled by the US National Academy of Sciences said it would be irresponsible to use DNA editing tools to alter the genomes of human embryos, eggs, or sperm until safety, ethical and legal issues were resolved.

Previous reports of editing human embryos were all by scientists in China.

The work by Shoukgrat Mitalipov (Oregon Health and Science University, Portland) and colleagues is believed to be ground-breaking in terms of the number of embryos modified and the safety and efficiency that was demonstrated in doing so. Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days - and there was never any intention of implanting them into a wombâ€"the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans".

But critics of the CRISPR technology say it could open the door to the world of designer babies - where parents can select for specific traits in their child.

"So far as I know, this will be the first study reported in the U.S.", said Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, who played a role in the project.

The U.S. intelligence community past year called CRISPR a potential "weapon of mass destruction".

Scientists familiar with the new United States work told MIT Technology Review that the OR team has improved these issues. Until the numbers are published, it will not be clear to what extent this reduced mosaicism. Mitalipov refused to comment on the results of the project, but some of his collaborators already confirmed them to the publication.

"It is proof of principle that it can work", the researcher said.

A fourth paper describing attempts to correct defective genes in human embryos using CRISPR is about to be published.

Now Mitalipov's team has apparently managed to reduce the rate of mosaicism by injecting the CRISPR machinery at an earlier stage, at the same time as the eggs were fertilised with sperm.

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

According to OHSU spokesperson Eric Robinson, the result of the peer-reviewed study are expected to be published soon in a scientific journal. 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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