Scientists edit human embryos for first time in US

Shoukhrat Mitalipov is the first U.S.-based scientist known to have edited the DNA of human embryos.		
	OHSU  Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Several groups around the world are working on gene editing in human embryos, using the revolutionary CRISPR technique.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

A controversial technology which allows scientists to "edit" the genes in a human embryo has been used for the first time in America, according to Oregon Health and Science University.

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

"The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed nearly universally as a line that should not be crossed", Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health said in April 2015.

According to MIT Technology Review, the experiment was just an exercise in science - the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never meant to be implanted into a womb.


The embryos, which were modified to test the feasibility of fixing known disease-causing genes, were terminated days after the experiment.

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. Their improved method allows for earlier delivery of CRISPR into cells at the same time sperm fertilize an egg. "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.

Results of the peer-reviewed study are expected to be published soon in a scientific journal, according to OHSU spokesman Eric Robinson.

"They significantly reduced mosaicism", explained one researcher, who chose to remain anonymous. It's unclear what illnesses were involved exactly, but they used sperm donated by subjects with various inheritable diseases. The U.S. intelligence community said past year that the CRISPR editing technique was a potential "weapon of mass destruction".

In February, the US National Academy of Sciences released a report, endorsing the use of gene editing, but only for "serious conditions under stringent oversight".

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