A New York scientist is attempting to modify the DNA of human embryos – a similar and controversial method to what Chinese scientists recently targeted to do only a few months ago.
The dott. Dietrich He, a cellular biologist for the development of Columbia University, is using the CRISPR gene modification method, winner of the Nobel Prize to attempt to repair DNA mutations in early embryos, he told NPR.
In November, a Chinese scientist became public with the news that he had already treated the genome of twin embryos – and that they had developed and already born a couple of healthy girls.
The same doctor He called this work "vandalism of the genome", but argues that his experiments are purely for research purposes and intended to determine the safety of the procedure.
The Columbia University biologist, Dr Dietrich Egli, is genetically modifying human embryos and allowing them to develop for a day among the controversies about the first "designer children" created in China – that even he criticized (file)
Currently, he told NPR, he is destroying embryos after only one day of development, but to fully understand the safety of the procedure, Dr. He will have to allow the embryos to develop longer, raising serious ethical issues.
When it was developed, the CRISPR technique – which functions as a chemical product that cuts and glues, finds and removes defective genes before replacing them with better copies – has been hailed as hope for the end of genetic diseases.
In theory, this could mean preventing any child from being born with genetic abnormalities, and no risk or low for the disease with genetic components, a perspective that is attractive to parents on a personal level and could reduce the burden of the disease on the public health.
But that could be a slippery slope.
If scientists can change genes for problems, why could not they modify genes for parents' favorite traits?
Drawing a line of demarcation between disease prevention and "design children" is fodder for an almost infinite bioethical debate.
When the dott. He Jiankui, a scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology (who insists nothing to do with the experiment) in China used CRISPR to modify the genomes of the twin embryos, was to prevent them from inheriting the father HIV.
But the critics – of whom there were many, and they were furious – claimed that the girls could be protected from infection by other proven methods, true and empirically tested.
Skepticism and, perhaps even more importantly, the profound uncertainty surrounding the Chinese twins (Lulu and Nana) because the procedure was done in secret and Dr Jiankui did not publish an article on research.
The dott. He claims to take a more cautious approach.
He is using CRISPR to repair genes related to the form of hereditary blindness.
But he says his job is not intended to create genetically modified babies, but rather "research purposes" to test the safety of his method.
"We can not just do the assembly and then hope that everything goes well and implant it into a womb. This is not responsible, "said dr.
"We must first do basic research studies to see what happens. This is what we are doing here. "
One after the other, Dr He is "dipping" sperm from men with the congenital of blindness (called retinitis pigmentosa) into a solution containing the CRISPR instrument programmed to eliminate the defective genes.
Inject then the spermatozoon into the egg, which has a healthy copy of the eye disease gene. The idea is that when they combine, the healthy copy of the egg gene will be sub-in.
After the seemingly simple repair process was done, Dr. He said that he leaves the mature embryo for a day of observation to see if the technique seems safe up to that point.
But of course, if the ultimate goal is to genetically modify the disease from human DNA, eventually these embryos will have to develop completely.
The law and regulation in the United States (and abroad) are still struggling with abortion and the definition of conception. They have a long way to go to recover the radically changing children.
Until it works, work like that of dr. He will remain an almost inhomogeneous excitement area in the medical field, and certainly one of the most controversial.