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

Posted July 28, 2017

The scientists reportedly used a technique called CRISPR, which allows sections of DNA to be altered or replaced.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University in the United States, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the controversial gene-editing technique CRISPR.

Scientists in China have published similar studies with mixed results.

Now a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University is about to publish details of a bigger study based on editing "many tens" of embryos.

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While the embryos were not allowed to be developed for more than a few days, the researchers ultimately proved that they could be efficiently edited in the attempt to correct genetic disorders.

Scientists wanted to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like thalassemia.

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.

A team of scientists from OR have performed the first known instance of gene editing on human embryos in the U.S., Engadget reports citing MIT's Tech Review.

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Last year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that added genome editing to a list of weapons of mass destruction and proliferation, saying it "increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products". The team reduced mosaicism by ensuring that CRISPR was injected into eggs early on, while they were in the process of being fertilized with sperm.

Speaking to Technology Review, a scientist familiar with the project said: 'It is proof of principle that it can work.

The technique was previously tested by Tony Perry, who was able to successfully edit the genes in mice to change the expected fur color of their offspring. "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", an unnamed scientist told the MIT Technology Review.

When reached by MIT Technology Review, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication. 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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