The First Results of Gene Editing in Normal Embryos Have Been Released


Viable Editing

One of the most fascinating and promising developments in
genetics is the CRISPR genome editing technique. Basically,
CRISPR is a mechanism by which geneticists can treat disease by
either disrupting genetic code by splicing in a mutation or
repairing genes by splicing out mutations and replacing them
with healthy code.

Researchers in China at the Third Affiliated Hospital of
Guangzhou Medical University have successfully edited genetic
mutations in viable human embryos for the first time.
Typically, to avoid ethical concerns, researchers opt to use
non-viable embryos that could not possibly develop into a
child.

*5* Researchers Release Successful Results of First Genetic Edit of Viable EmbryosSource: pixabay

Previous research using these non-viable embryos has not
produced promising results. The very
first attempt to repair genes
in any human embryos used
these abnormal embryos. The study ended with abysmal results,
with fewer than ten percent of cells being repaired. Another
study published last year also had a low rate of success,
showing that the technique still has a
long way to go
 before becoming a reliable medical
tool.

However, after experiencing similar results with using the
abnormal embryos again, the scientists decided to see if they
would fare better with viable embryos. The team collected
immature eggs from donors undergoing IVF treatment. Under
normal circumstances, these cells would be discarded, as they
are less likely to successfully develop. The eggs were matured
and fertilized with sperm from men carrying hereditary
diseases.

Disease Sniper

While the results of this round of study were not perfect, they
were much more promising than the previous studies done with
the non-viable embryos. The team used six embryos, three of
which had the mutation that causes favism (a disease leading to
red blood cell breakdown in response to certain stimuli), and
the other three had the mutation that results in a blood
disease called beta-thalassemia.

The researchers were able to correct two of the favism embryos.
In the other, the mutation was turned off, as not all of the
cells were corrected. This means that the mutation was
effectively shut down, but not eliminated. It created what is
called a mosaic. In the other set, the mutation was fully
corrected in one of the embryos and only some cells were
corrected in the other two.

These results are not perfect, but experts still do find
potential in them. “It does look more promising than previous
papers,” says Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute.
However, they do understand that results from a test of only
six embryos are far from definitive.

Gene editing with CRISPR truly has the possibility to
revolutionize medicine. Just looking at the development in
terms of disease treatment, and not the other more ethically
murky possible applications, it is an extremely exciting
achievement.

Not only could CRISPR help eradicate hereditary disease,
but it is also a tool that could help fight against
diseases like malaria
. There is a long road ahead for both
the scientific and ethical aspects of the tech. Still, the
possible benefits are too great to give up now.

DNA rendering” by ynse is licensed under CC BY-SA


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The First Results of Gene Editing in Normal Embryos Have Been Released

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