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 Oregon Health & Science University effectively modified the DNA of human embryos using a ‘cut and paste’ gene-editing technique called CRISPR (Clustered Regulatory 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 called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that is caused by mutations in the MYBPC3 gene. CRISPR was able to correct his mutant gene into its normal, healthy version in those fertilized eggs. 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 in a generation.
So 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 efficacy, and its safety would need to be refined and tested on non-human primates. It will take years of studies before CRISPR is considered safe for use in humans.
For couples who are carriers of serious disease causing mutations, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is currently used. The technique relies on genetically testing embryos and subsequently selecting those embryos for transfer that do not carry the mutant genes.
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