USA scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

USA scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers led by Oregon Health and Science University's Shoukhrat Mitalipov in Portland: using the gene-editing technique CRISPR, the group managed to change the DNA in a large number of one-cell embryos.

A team of scientists from OR have performed the first known instance of gene editing on human embryos in the U.S., Engadget reports citing MIT's Tech Review.

OPB was not immediately able to independently confirm the breakthrough.

Scientists in China have attempted the same experiments on human embryos, to mixed results.

Experiments are in the works now in the US using gene-edited cells to try to treat people with various diseases, but "in order to really have a cure, you want to get this at the embryo stage", he said.

Critics, however, said that it could open the door to the world of "designer babies", where people choose the traits they want in a child.

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Chinese scientists had previously reported using CRISPR to edit human embryos, but they were only successful in altering a small number of cells.

The milestone means scientists in the USA are officially one step closer to engineering the first genetically modified human beings on earth.

The embryos were only allowed to develop for a few days, the report said. Also, not all the cells in the embryos were successfully edited, causing an effect called "mosaicism". The Tech Review could not determine which disease genes researchers chose for editing. They significantly reduced mosaicism.

Reached by Skype, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication. "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", said a scientist familiar with the project. US Intelligence agencies have warned against CRISPR, calling it a potential "weapon of mass destruction".

Somewhat prophetically, Perry's paper on the research, published at the end of 2014, said, "This or analogous approaches may one day enable human genome targeting or editing during very early development". It's like using a molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, and is much more precise than some types of gene therapy that can not ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended.

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