July 9, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Early human embryo panel.
Early human embryo panel.

We’ve all heard the human embryo editing rumors. There is a sense that human embryos have already been CRISPR’d.

Rumors are rumors and they may mean not a whole lot, but there definitely is a huge buzz on this right now both in a positive sense and with concern.

The excitement is over the power of this technology to do transformative things.

The worry is that these papers might easily cross a line or if they are not done incredibly rigorously with unquestionable transparency, institutional oversight and approval they could do far more harm than good. Human embryo CRISPR is a step in that direction.

Some in the press are going all-in with the rumors (see here and here).

What’s really going on?

The short answer is that it still remains pretty foggy at this point.

There are supposed to be anywhere from 1-4 papers out there in review at journals reporting CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene editing of human germ cells and/or human embryos.

I’ve heard this from multiple sources including some very reliable ones. Again, it is out there in the press as well including in a quote from George Church on a paper from China. A few think that Luhan Yang, a postdoc from Church’s lab at Harvard, will be an author on one of the papers.

However, as of now it’s not clear where these papers are coming from (e.g. what labs) and what exactly they will report.

Mulitple folks besides Church say that at least one human embryo CRISPR paper is coming from China. Probably two.

Others say there is at least one non-China paper, probably from an American lab. Additional voices mention more specifically a California or NY connection.

Someone else said all (two) the papers were rejected so far or reviewers asked for challenging, major revisions.

I’ve heard people say the gene editing will be a BRCA1 correction, while others say it will be a correction of the CFTR gene mutation associated with cystic fibrosis.

How are journals and editors handling these human embryo CRISPR papers? Will they require some kind of special ethical or scientific review? Will they make the papers open access if they publish them? Could the papers indeed have been rejected and now remain in some kind of limbo?

Most are just throwing up their hands and saying, “heck if I know”. That’s probably the safest best at this point.

So, investigative readers, what do you think and/or know?

%d bloggers like this: