Health Desk—August 6, 2017: Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families. It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations.
The study hints at the future of medicine, but also provokes deep questions about what is morally right.
Science is going through a golden age in editing DNA thanks to a new technology called Crispr, named breakthrough of the year in just 2015. Its applications in medicine are vast and include the idea of wiping out genetic faults that cause diseases from cystic fibrosis to breast cancer.
Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a key figure in the research team, said: “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.” But they could not correct every cell, so the embryo was a “mosaic” of healthy and diseased cells.
Their approach also led to other parts of the genetic code becoming mutated. Those technical obstacles have been overcome in the latest research. However, this is not about to become routine practice. The biggest question is one of safety, and that can be answered only by far more extensive research. There are also questions about when it would be worth doing - embryos can already be screened for disease through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.
Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, said: “Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all. “This is not a straightforward question... equally, the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play.”
Dr Yalda Jamshidi, a reader in genomic medicine at St George’s University of London, said: “The study is the first to show successful and efficient correction of a disease-causing mutation in early stage human embryos with gene editing.
—Courtesy: BBC health