In first for U.S., Mitalipov reportedly CRISPR’d human embryos & it was great

Early human embryos

More CRISPR’d human embryos, but this time in America?

MIT Tech Review is reporting that Oregon scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov has used CRISPR on human embryos in his lab in the US. Apparently a paper is in the works on this.Early human embryos

While details are sketchy and some specifics remain to be clarified to be sure of what’s the deal here, this Tech Review report appears generally accurate based on what I’ve heard so this appears to be the first reported use of CRISPR on human embryos by an American lab.

Boom, the door is open.

Based on the little we know and rumors out there, it appears likely that Mitalipov’s team, while creating embryos from sperm of men with genetic disease, used CRISPR on otherwise healthy, viable embryos, but that remains to be confirmed.

Tech Review seems to be gushing a bit too much for my taste though on this CRISPR’d human embryos development and making some pretty big assumptions about how it turned out. For instance, this quote sounds like hype to me:

“Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.”

Safely and efficiently?

Isn’t that “safely” part jumping the gun? You’d have to make a person from the CRISPR’d human embryos to really know if it was safe or not.

Apparently as to the latter claim of “efficiently”, Mitalipov’s team reportedly used CRISPR on “tens” of human embryos and reportedly found better efficiency and lower rates of mosaicism, where down the developmental path days after CRISPR introduction only some cells have edits, while others don’t.

Let’s wait for the data. Also, I’d recommend reading my ABCD plan for handling human genetic modification research, which suggests being transparent about the genes being targeted for one thing.

The US National Academy’s panel on human gene editing outlined many reasons for caution on the use of CRISPR in human embryos but left the door ajar and now Mitalipov seems to have gone through. Since federal funding of embryo modification isn’t clearly allowed in the US, presumably this team used private funding of some kind.

Overall, is this development a good thing?

It’s a mixed bag. I’ll reserve more definitive judgement until the paper is actually published and we can all discuss it. However, it is very important not to hype the use of CRISPR in human embryos as an easy or safe path to preventing genetic disease, and also to point out the existing proven technologies of embryo screening (PGD, PGS) that could be used instead right now to achieve almost all of the same goals.

Meanwhile researchers in China are reportedly doing more CRISPR on human embryos, and researchers in the UK and Sweden have apparently already been CRISPR’ing healthy human embryos based on their respective governmental approvals…strictly for research purposes.

What comes next?

3 Comments


  1. Hello, Admin:

    Is this the beginning of humankind’s self-transcendence or self-extinction? Whatever the future of such developments in human technology, the oppressed among us have the most to fear…in this generation of human evolution and whatever more may come. May God still love our souls as we depart Eden again, again because of the arrogance of our intelligence and the stupidity of our will.

    James at Asymmetrex


  2. Paul,
    My concern with research practices past and present have relied on first to publish and an apparent lack of interest in long term clinical effects. Two examples come to mind with respect to cancer treatments: chemical chemotherapeutic agents and now CAR-T. The majority of chemical chemotherapeutic agents are carcinogens in their own right. So while they may rid the person of one particular form of cancer in the short term, more than likely they will induce other forms of cancer 10-20 years down the road. And now there is CAR-T. In essence the treatment induces the person’s immune system to eradicate the cancer in a one-size-fits-all approach. While that may seem like a more sensible approach versus chemotherapy, what they are doing in this one-size-fits-all approach is to induce autoimmunity in these individuals. The treatment actively induces LUPUS. From personal experience, systemic lupus is a very nasty disease that effects all organs and can lead to an extremely painful death, regardless what current AMA-approved treatment is given. Researchers either need to be more cognizant of long term effects for the individual or at least be more selective in their approach to treating specific cell types.


  3. Notwithstanding the implications of germline editing gone awry, which is concerning and warrants strict regulatory oversight on moving beyond research at this stage, I applaud the actualization of the intent embodied in the NAS directive to prudently explore the scientific value of US labs editing embryonic genes to find clues to and ultimately cures to cruel devastating defects.

    I find it telling that Mitalipov was the first to be documented to do such work here. However, it’s not surprising given his labs long standing history and expertise in embryology.

    Others in the community shouldn’t be swayed by the ethical critics of embryonic study as impactful scientific innovation cannot be achieved without inclusive investigation using real world human cells.

    Getting the credit for doing something where others have either failed or have not been bold enough to try doesn’t strike me as being undeserved – rather, I’d question a system that doesn’t positively acknowledge and more so frown upon peers sniping at the heels of such efforts.

    I support all research into the origins of our being and the defects that cause suffering in a scientific and legally sanctioned manner – which this was. Moreover, if this is a pathway to knowledge that can be open as a result that will ultimately lead to safe and effective, medically necessary, interventions then imo we have the obligation as a society tasked with looking after the best future interests of its own to move forward.

    Cheers

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