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No designer babies made when Oregon Health & Science University used CRISPR to edit genes in human embryos
2017-07-28 11:04:38
Michael Fox

Source: Pixabay / Quimono

Although scientists at Oregon Health & Science University made American medical history by editing the genes of human embryos, the NationalInstitutes of Health (NIH) said it will not fund such types of experiments.However, even if the researchers, led by Shoukrat Mitalipov, used germlineengineering technology, they did not produced designer babies.

The human embryos they developed, using the CRISPR gene editing technique, were allowed to be developed for only a few days and not intended tobe implanted in the womb.The purpose of their experiment was to alter specific sections of DNA to avoid genetic diseases., CBS News reported.However, in spite of the great potentials offered by gene editing, some groups fear it could lead to designer babies produced for desirable traits. 

Weapon of mass destruction

Because of the possibilities offered by gene editing techniques, the US intelligence community expressed apprehension over CRISPR.In 2016, thecommunity called CRISPR a potential "weapon of mass destruction," the MIT Technology Review reported.While the American scientific world looksforward to achieving success in experimenting with gene editing technology similar to Chinese researchers, it could not rely on government financialsupport.

As early as April 2015, the NIH issued a statement that it will not fund research that will use gene-editing technologies in human embryos.The healthagency explained that even if technological advances gave the scientific world a new way to carry out genome editing, the strong argument againstengaging in gene editing remain. "The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated for many years frommany different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed," Francis Collins, the director of NIH, said.

The NIH ban on CRISPR is its use only on human embryos.In March, the agency reported that it was able to silence the gene Nrl in mice that stops theloss of cells from degenerative ailments of the embryo.The agency said the results of the study, made by scientists at the National Eye Institute andpublished on March 14 in Nature Communications journal, could lead to novel therapiess to prevent loss of vision in humans.

Strict criteria

However, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine said in early 2017 that it will be okay to alter the genesof embryos when done under strict criteria and if the objective is to prevent serious ailments.In a comment on the Oregon gene-editing experiment, .R.Alta Charo, a bioethicist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it is the kind of research the report from Oregon discussed. 

She assured that because of regulatory barriers in the US against creating human embryos that would develop into pregnancy, the public hassufficient time to study and weigh in on the gene-editing technology.Outside the US, in Britain, some British scientists were allowed to edit genes inembryos to have a better understanding of human development.Some researcher in UK have used CRISPR to remove successfully HIV infection froma lab mice.

In the Oregon experiment, Mitalipov changed the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos using CRISPR.However, he did not disclose more detailsof the experiment because the results of the study are pending publication.According to the MIT Technology Review, Mitalipov's team showed that itis possible to avoid mosaicism and its off-taret effects.For the experiment, they used donated sperm from men with the inherited disease mutations

The team injected CRISPR into the egg same time it was fertilized with sperm.The method that Mitalipov used was similar to what Tony Perry ofBath University tested in mice gene which he edited for coat color by changing the offspring's fur to white from the expected brown. 

Mitapilov -- a Kazakhstan by birth --unveiled in 2007 the first cloned monkey in the world.After five years, he created human embryos via cloning tocreate patient-specific stem cells. 

Dyskerstosis congenita

Other than in Oregon, other uses of CRISPR was made by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St.Louis.They used the gene-editing technique -- considered more precise than other types of gene therapy that cannot ensure the desired changes will happen exactly where andas intended -- to discover more about dyskeratosis congenita.It is a rare, but sometimes deadly syndrome that causes kids to lose the ability tomanufacture vital blood cells. 

Luis Batista, an assistant professor of medicine and senior author of the Washington University School of Medicine, explained that using CRISPR, theylooked for a way to block the signaling pathways that were activated by short telomeres -- the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes -- whichspecifically lead to the problem in formation of blood cells.If a way would be found, patients with the condition will continue making blood cells, News-medical.net reported.


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