Human embryos ‘edited’ to alter risky gene

What happened?

Researchers in Oregon have successfully “gene edited” human embryos to remove a mutation that causes sudden heart failure, the first such success reported outside China.

The US-Korean study used gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to fix mutations in embryos made with the sperm of a man who had inherited a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. If embryos were edited at the time of fertilisation the mutation was “fixed” in 42 out of 58 cases.

What the media are saying

“Humanity has gained the power to engineer its own evolution,” the Financial Times declared, celebrating the project’s “laudable aims” in a leader. “The project’s success should inspire governments, regulatory authorities and medical academies around the world to prepare more actively for clinical trials leading to genetically engineered babies,” it said.

Dr David King, founder of the secular group Human Genetics Alert, said that “if you peel away the hype, the truth is that we already have robust ways of avoiding the birth of children with such conditions, where that is appropriate, through genetic testing of embryos”. Writing in the Guardian, he said money would be better spent on developing cures for these conditions. “Gene editing” will fast lead to a consumer market for “designer babies”, he said.

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