Chinese scientists have confirmed modifying human embryos. While some have applauded the latest effort, others have also expressed criticism.
Scientists in Asia do not come across as many restrictions while conducting research on human embryos in comparison to scientists of the western world. DNA modification is not something new to the scientific community as it has been conducted on animals and plants. However, such research has been a topic of heated debate when it comes to humans.
Researchers from the Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, have recently confirmed that they had altered human embryos. Scientists claim that a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 can help in altering defects in genes. For the latest study, the technology was used to alter the gene responsible for thalassaemia, a fatal blood disease that affects many children in south China.
While the technology can be very helpful in treating various types of diseases, maintaining health and increasing the life span of humans, it is considered unethical by many scientists.
Dr. Robert Green, a geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who heads a newborn gene-sequencing project called BabySeq, believes that the research is exciting as well as disturbing.
"It's exciting because I think we all recognize the promise of gene editing to someday in the future ameliorate human suffering," said Dr. Green. "It's disturbing because there is a strong consensus that a tremendous amount of foundational work needs to be accomplished before even considering this application in human embryos."
Some biologists also suggest that the technology is not yet developed in order to permit genome editing in human embryos.
"With current technologies, it's highly unsafe," said Dr. George Q. Daley, a professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at the Harvard Medical School.
Dr. David King, Human Genetics Alert Director, also emphasizes banning the research. Dr. King believes that the technology may be exploited by the rich people in the future to buy babies who have genetic advantages.
"It is entirely unnecessary since there are already many ethical ways to avoid thalassaemia. This research is a classic example of scientific careerism—assuring one's place in the history books even though the research is unnecessary and unethical," said Dr. King.
Photo: Lunar Caustic | Flickr