Eugenics Breakthrough – Designer Babies by Editing Human Embryos

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Science is one step closer to creating the ultimate human being after researchers completed the world’s first successful “DNA cut” in a fertilized egg.

A team of U.S. researchers have published a paper in Nature documenting their ability to successfully edit a human embryo to correct a certain genetic mutation that causes an inheritable heart condition. [1] The groundbreaking feat was spearheaded by scientists from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland using Crispr-Cas9, a gene-editing tool that essentially works like a pair of “molecular scissors.”

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Researchers were specifically targeting a mutated copy of MYBPC3, a gene involved in heart muscle contraction. When this gene is faulty, it causes a common form of heart failure called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This heart problem usually begins in middle age, but has been known to affect young athletes too.

Test TubeLed by Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, from OHSU, the team performed the genetic modifications on a total of 58 embryos, where they removed the mutated gene. Once removed, the embryo then repaired itself by replacing the mutated portions with healthy cells.

In total, the team reported that the technique worked successfully on 42 of the 58 embryos (72%) so that the corrected embryos no longer had the mutated gene. After five days, the embryos were destroyed, yet, had they lived, researchers maintain they would not have developed the heart condition or pass it on to their hypothetical children.

Speaking on the findings, Dr. Mitalipov, remarked:

“Every generation on would carry this repair because we’ve removed the disease-causing gene variant from that family’s lineage. By using this technique, it’s possible to reduce the burden of this heritable disease on the family and eventually the human population.”

He continued:

“Maybe the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) might take a lead on this, but I’m quite sure before these clinical trials can go on they have to go through, I believe, Parliament to change a law. So there is still a long road ahead, particularly if you want to do it in a regulatory way.”

However, the results met with a sizeable blowback, particularly from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics. Spokeswoman for the group statedd the research was of an “extremely questionable kind” and cautioned that developing this technology further could lead to the creation of “FEA said: ‘UK researchers can apply for a licence to edit human embryos in research, but offering it “superior” babies.

Proponents for the gene-cutting therapy feel the technique could be used to treat other genetic disorders including sickle cell, cancer, and possibly Huntington’s disease.

The idea of gene editing/manipulation is currently one of the most controversial topics around the world. While there certainly are noble causes the technology can be used to treat, the vast amount of uncertainty that still exists leaves many apprehensive about pursuing it further.

Where do you stand on the issue of gene editing? Should it be pursued or banned? Leave a comment down below with your thoughts!

References

1) Ma H, Marti-Gutierrez N, Park S-W, et al. Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos. Nature. 2017;advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature23305.

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