In US first, scientists edit genes of human embryos

In US first, scientists edit genes of human embryos

Successfully undertaken by U.S. scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, based at Oregon Health and Science University, the use of CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats), enabled scientists to edit and modify parts of DNA to prevent potential hereditary diseases.

But we do know two things that make this experiment groundbreaking: First, researchers worked on dozens of embryos - a larger amount than any previous study. They've made more experiments since with one experiment in March using viable embryos.

The effort was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University. According to experts, the technique was much more precise than some types of gene therapy that can not ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended. With gene editing, these so-called germline changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring.

The approach held great potential for avoiding many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of "designer babies" if done for other reasons such as producing desirable traits. Still, such experiments tend to suffer from an error called "mosaicism" where not all the cells of an embryo take up the changes and the child may ultimately inherit the disease despite the procedure.

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The scientists used embryos sourced from fertility clinics which would not have been able to be developed further as a result of certain defects, and used donated sperm from men with hereditary diseases, in order to try and rectify these diseases through germline engineering.

"Once that begins, I think it will be very hard to stop", she said, according to Wired.

"We still have regulatory barriers in the United States to ever trying this to achieve a pregnancy". "Any such experiment aimed at a pregnancy would need FDA approval, and the agency is now not allowed to even consider such a request" because of limits set by Congress.

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