Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Human Embryos Edited

By AusSMC

Scientists have used CRISPR to edit human embryos, removing a mutation linked to a heritable heart condition.

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CRISPR is surprisingly easy to use, and what was stopping us from editing human embryos wasn’t really any technical limitation; it was more ethical barriers, concerns for safety, and lack of pressing medical need.

This study by Ma et al. (http://tinyurl.com/y95z6uhq) is more about testing the boundaries of our society vs any real technical advance. In fact, most of the “editing” observed was actually not what the researchers intended. For example, the changes induced were not precisely controlled “editing”, as healthy DNA from the embryo actually guided the correction. So while technically a success, the researchers did not really do what they meant to do, and this highlights how things could go wrong if we rush into editing human embryos without really understanding how the process works.

If, as a society, we were going to develop these approaches to genetically modify embryos to cleanse genetic mutations, there will inevitably be some mistakes and we need to consider that carefully.

CRISPR genome editing will eventually revolutionise medicine, and in the near future could be particularly useful for therapies to repair inherited mutations such as those causing cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, immune deficiencies, or common diseases including HIV or various cancers....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.