Swedish Scientist May Be First In The World To Edit Healthy Human Embryo Genes

23 September 2016, 6:01 am EDT By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
Editing the genes of healthy human embryos is considered highly controversial. However, a scientist in Sweden announced that he is trying to edit such genes for research, according to NPR.  ( Greg Emmerich | Flickr )

A developmental biologist in Sweden is attempting to edit the genes of healthy human embryos — making him the first to do so in history, according to an NPR exclusive report.

The topic of editing human embryo genes has long been considered a taboo. In fact, the practice has been under scrutiny over ethical and safety concerns.

But Fredrik Lanner, a scientist at the Karolinska Institute, announced that he is trying to edit genes in human embryos to study how the genes regulate their early development. NPR released an interview with Lanner.

Hopes For Gene Editing

Lanner is using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR, which was hailed as the 2015 Breakthrough of the Year by Science Magazine. CRISPR acts as a molecular pair of scissors that can snip and edit genomes.

By using CRISPR, Lanner hopes his research could pave the way for new methods to prevent miscarriages and treat infertility. He also hopes his work could help experts learn more about embryonic stem cells and their role in treating a wide range of diseases.

He said that if scientists can learn how the early cells are regulated in the embryo, it may be useful in treating patients with Parkinson's disease, different types of blindness, diabetes and other diseases.

What Critics Say

However, scientists are concerned that mistakes while editing DNA in human embryos could trigger the onset of new diseases that could be passed down to future generations.

Furthermore, many fear that the kind of work Lanner does could also open the door for others to attempt to use genetically modified embryos in producing "designer babies."

In 2015, scientists in China tried to edit DNA using "non-viable" human embryos that would not go on to develop or grow. In February, officials in the United Kingdom approved a proposal to edit the genes of human embryos, under condition that the embryos will be "destroyed" a week later.

Likewise, Lanner said he is only planning to study the modified embryos for the first seven days of growth and would never allow them to develop past 14 days.

Lanner said that gene editing is not a technology that should be taken lightly. He said he stands against any thoughts of using the technology to produce designer babies or enhance for aesthetic purposes.

Still, he believes that basic research is necessary to move forward scientifically.

“I think it’s wise to be allowed to do fundamental research,” said Lanner, adding that such studies can become beneficial in the future.

Photo: Greg Emmerich | Flickr

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