September 30, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

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

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?

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