An embryo editing breakthrough is announced. What does it mean for you?
A breakthrough study on human embryo editing was published in a top-tier scientific journal. Scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University effectively modified the DNA of human embryos using a ‘cut and paste’ gene-editing technique called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). The team edited embryos that were created by fertilizing healthy eggs with sperm collected from a man with a known debilitating, incurable, and inherited heart disease named hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The disease is caused by mutations in the MYBPC3 gene. CRISPR was able to correct the mutant gene into its normal, healthy version in those embryos. The corrected embryos were allowed to grow in the incubator until day 5. The implications of this new research are significant: scientists could theoretically remove hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from passing from a father to his children.
But what does this latest embryo research breakthrough mean for you? Sadly, not much. In its current stage, CRISPR is used solely for research purposes as the technique, its safety, and its efficacy need to be refined and tested on non-human primates. It may take years of research before CRISPR is considered safe for use in human embryos.
For couples who are carriers of serious disease causing mutations, pre-implantation genetic testing is currently available. The technique relies on genetically testing embryos. Those tested embryos that do not carry the mutant genes are selected for transfer.
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