For the first time in history, researchers from China are able to edit a human embryo and knock out a gene named HBB, which causes β-thalassaemia, a fatal blood disorder. The 16-member group from Sun Yat-Sen University got the embryo from an in-vitro fertilization clinic.
The test was conducted on embryos with genetic problems. While in some cases the research was successful, some genes became mosaics. Some ignored the template, leading towards mutation that is unwanted.
News that human embryo modification is possible is a huge breakthrough in medical science, though scientists are not sure if actual humans from genetically modified embryo will be able to see the light of world. However, this provides a ray of light to problems of gene disorders quite common these days.
The CRISPR/Cas9 technique was used to do the modification, and this is the first case where CRISPR was used in human genome embryonic. The technique is meant for utilizing complex DNA that will eventually knock out the faulty DNA out of the gene.
Edward Lanphier, president of Sangamo and chairman for the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, said, “We believe there is a fundamental ethical issue in crossing the boundary to modifying the human germ line.”
In the article “Sangamo BioSciences is conducting clinical trials to evaluate an application of genome editing as a potential ‘functional cure’ for HIV/AIDS,” it also mentioned that the effect of the modification will be unknown till the time the human is really born.
On the other hand, critics are worried that such a genetically modified embryo, despite not possessing risks of disease, can still experience genetic consequences that may be hard to deal with.