A team of researchers in Portland, Oregon has created what is believed to be the first genetically modified human embryos in the United States.
The scientists used CRISPR, a gene-editing technique that allowed them to potentially correct defective genes that can cause diseases before a baby is born.
“So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the U.S.,” Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who participated in the research, explained to MIT Technology Review.
Lead researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, worked with a team to alter the DNA of a large sample of one-cell embryos using the CRISPR method.
The embryos were taken from a sperm donor with a specific genetic mutation that researchers planned to repair using CRISPR.
The CRISPR method has been used in China but produced multiple editing errors while the desire changes didn’t occur in all embryos, a miscalculation known as mosaicism.
To complete the process gene-editing chemicals are injected into a human egg at the moment of fertilization as shown below.
Mitalipov and his team claim that their attempt created less “off-target” editing errors than previous studies.
Eliminating editing errors is important to ensure babies don’t pass down unknown genetic errors to their offspring that could have negative effects on the gene-pool as a whole.
CRISPR was discovered five years ago but was only approved for further testing by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in the past year.
“This is the kind of research that is essential if we are to know if it’s possible to safely and precisely make corrections,” R. Alta Charo, a legal scholar and bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told STAT.
“While there will be time for the public to decide if they want to get rid of regulatory obstacles to these studies, I do not find them inherently unethical,” Charo added.
Further research and testing are expected in the near future.