A team of Swedish scientists led by Fredrik Lanner in Stockholm have claimed they are the first to successfully edit the genes of living, healthy human embryos using CRISPR. They experimented on five humans who were donated to the Karolinska Institute by parents in an in vitro fertilization program. To begin the process, the researchers put the five embryos through a freezing and thawing process 48 hours after the moment of conception.
Four of the five embryos survived that process. Those four survivors were then genetically engineered under a microscope using CRISPR to edit specific genes. Three of the four embryos survived the CRISPR operation but Lanner has insisted he would never let genetically engineered human embryos live past 14 days based on ethical concerns. Using many of the same arguments as researchers do regarding embryonic stem cell experiments, they theorize genetic engineering of humans in their earliest stages of life will bring medical breakthroughs to fight some of the worst diseases. Such theories, however, have never been proven true.
According to one source report, “Although he’s unsure of how the process is working so far, he’s fairly certain he’ll be able to modify individual genes in the embryos to determine their function.” Critics of genetic engineering have raised concerns that gene editing will promote the practice of making designer babies for parents looking to delete what they think are undesirable genes while beefing up favorable ones. There are also concerns that tampering with genes (especially since there is still a lot that is unknown about them) will spark new diseases which, as yet, may not have any cures and will jeopardize all humans and in some cases be converted into biological weapons.
Lanner insists, “his intent is to study embryonic genetic development for the purpose of solving issues of infertility and finding cures for current diseases.” Furthermore, he claims, “…I really, of course, stand against any sort of thoughts that one should use this to design designer babies or enhance for aesthetic purposes.” Harvard scientist George Church believes concerns about these experiments will not stop scientists from forging ahead on various experiments. Based on what he knows, Lanner is only the first to go public with his experiments, but many private sector scientists are already genetically engineering viable human embryos secretly.
The first successful genetic “editing” on human embryos sparks controversy, BigNewsNetwork.com, September 26, 2016.
Julie Fidler, Swedish Scientist Edits Genes of Healthy Embryos for First Time, NaturalSociety.com, September 26, 2016.