First ever genetically modified human embryos created in US

Posted July 28, 2017

For the first time, scientists in the U.S. have successfully edited the DNA of viable human embryos using the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR, according to a report by MIT Technology Review.

The research, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, head of OHSU's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy, involves a technology known as CRISPR which allows scientists to modify genes quickly and effectively.

None of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days, and researchers claim they never had intention of implanting them into a womb.

According to a person familiar with the research, "many tens" of human IVF embryos were created for the experiment using the donated sperm of men carrying inherited disease mutations.

Because changing the DNA of an early embryo results in changes to cells that will eventually produce sperm and eggs, if the embryo is born and grows to adulthood, any children he or she has will inherit the genetic adjustment, which is called germline editing. It's like using a molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, and is much more precise than some types of gene therapy that can not ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended.

Global experts in the emerging field of gene therapy said it would be hard to assess the results until the OR team fully published its findings.

The scientists reportedly used a technique called CRISPR, which allows sections of DNA to be altered or replaced. It is thought to be the first such work in the USA; previous experiments like this have been reported from China.

Some critics say germline experiments could open the floodgates to a courageous new world of "designer babies" engineered with genetic enhancements-a prospect bitterly opposed by a range of religious organizations, civil society groups, and biotech companies.

By now, most of us know what CRISPR gene editing is.

The National Institute of Health, however, vehemently disagrees, announcing in 2015 that it "will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos".

But the team behind the work has yet to publish its findings in a scientific journal, and peers said it was too early to judge how successful the results might be.

By editing this tag, scientists are able to target the enzyme to specific regions of DNA and make precise cuts, wherever they like. "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", a scientist familiar with the project was quoted as saying.

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