Researchers Edit DNA Of Healthy Human Embryos In Controversial World First

Whether or not we should we edit human DNA is one of the most controversial questions of our time. Intense and sometimes acrimonious debate has raged over the issue for almost two decades.

According to the National Public Radio (NPR), developmental biologist Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has publically stated that he is already gene editing healthy human embryos that could theoretically develop into a baby.

It’s highly likely that he’s not actually alone in his controversial endeavor.

The news has been littered with recent reports of Chinese researchers editing genes in unviable human embryos. These are unable to develop into a person. In one example, a team attempted to edit these types of human embryos in order to make them HIV resistant.

The research all happened in secret and behind closed door. It's not yet clear if any viable human embryos have also been used. Some researchers do have their suspicions though.

On the other hand, Lanner is the first to openly and clearly state that he is conducting gene editing with viable human embryos. A reporter from NPR was allowed to watch as members of his laboratory injected viable human embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) with CRISPR/Cas9 elements, a powerful gene-editing tool that has set the field of genetics alight with its remarkable abilities.

With its quick and highly precise ability to “snip” out bits of genetic code and replace them with new ones, this gene-editing technique has the hypothetical ability to enhance the human genome by, for example, giving us immunity to certain diseases or conditions.

With this in mind, Lanner said that he hopes to use CRISPR to uncover new infertility treatments and to find out more about embryonic stem cells, the type than can grow to become almost any cell in the human body.

He told NPR:

If we can understand how these early cells are regulated in the actual embryo, this knowledge will help us in the future to treat patients with diabetes, or Parkinson's, or different types of blindness and other diseases.

Among a plethora of other worries, critics of such research are concerned that this could accidentally result in “altered” human embryos making it to advanced stages of fetal development. In order to assuage such worries, Lanner noted that his research group would never let the embryos make it past 14 days of development.

A global summit in Washington DC last December made it clear that it is illegal to modify a human embryo that is going to become a person. However, several research groups are seeking approval to conduct gene-editing experiments on viable human embryos.

The Francis Crick Institute in the UK was recently granted approval by national regulatory authorities to do so, the first such endorsement the world has ever seen, so long as the embryos are terminated after seven days post-fertilization.

The benefits of this type of work are nothing short of remarkable. Theoretically, genetic disorders could be “edited out” of developing babies before they are even born, saving them from a lifelong debilitating condition.

However, an unfortunate CRISPR slip-up could inadvertently cause an unforeseen DNA error. Ultimately, this could introduce a brand new disease into the human population. Additionally, “designer babies” with handpicked genetic code modifications falls along the same line as eugenics for some.

Lanner told NPR:

It's not a technology that should be taken lightly. So I really, of course, stand against any sort of thoughts that one should use this to design designer babies or enhance for aesthetic purposes.

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Researchers Edit DNA Of Healthy Human Embryos In Controversial World First Researchers Edit DNA Of Healthy Human Embryos In Controversial World First Reviewed by Admin on 13:55:00 Rating: 5
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