A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases, NPR reports.
For now, the work is confined to a laboratory, if the research is successful, it would mark another step toward turning CRISPR, a powerful form of gene editing, into a tool for medical treatment.
A Chinese scientist sparked international outrage in November when he announced that he had used the same technique to create the world’s first gene-edited human babies. He said his goal was to protect them from infection with HIV, a claim that was criticized because there are safe, effective and far less controversial ways of achieving that goal.
In contrast, Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist at Columbia University, says he is conducting his experiments “for research purposes.” He wants to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations.
So far, Egli has stopped any modified embryos from developing beyond one day so he can study them. “Right now we are not trying to make babies. None of these cells will go into the womb of a person,” he says.
But if the approach is successful, Egli would likely allow edited embryos to develop further to continue his research. He hopes doctors will someday be able edit embryonic human DNA to prevent many congenital illnesses, such as Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, NPR adds.