Editing Embryos

[ By on August 03, 2017 ]

There are several biotech dreams that I didn’t think would be realized in my lifetime – cloning an organism and relatively simple gene editing of a human embryo.  I’m 0 for 2.  Read for yourself here and here.  (I was surprised to see that the disorder they were working with was Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy; my lab from graduate school worked on genes / proteins associated with this disease).

Wow.

A few thoughts in the scientific and ethical domains.

1 – The efficiency rate is quite high – 72%.  The problem with earlier gene editing techniques was the abysmally low efficiency rate.

2 – This paper reported on correction of mistakes from the male (from the sperm) with a wild type female (egg).  Obviously, this would only correct the problem of a gene for a dominant disorder carried by the male.  Given the hope for correcting genes for recessive disorders carried by both parents, I wonder how this will proceed.

3 – Biology is amazing.  Different error repair mechanisms in cells of the early embryo?  Very cool.

4 – The authors did not raise the challenge of obtaining donor eggs as an ethical issue.  If I read correctly, they started with 54 embryos.  From how many women (oh sorry, “research oocyte donors”)?  How many cycles?  The process of donating eggs carries risks.  Generally, a woman accepts these risks to have a child.  But these biotech experiments seem to gloss over this point.

5 – The authors do a decent job of explaining the ethical review process that must take place should we proceed.  We will have to answer the question – what genetically based disorders should be “corrected” using a technique like this?  I liked the final line of the NYT article, ““Nobody’s going to do this for trivial reasons,” Dr. Charo said. “Sex is cheaper and it’s more fun than IVF, so unless you’ve got a real need, you’re not going to use it.”  At the same time, no one should underestimate parents who will do anything to give their child an advantage.

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