Reports emerging in late July indicate that a team of researchers, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, at Oregon Health and Science University successfully altered the genetic makeup of a human embryo, marking the first known occurrence of intentional human embryo gene editing in U.S history. The team employed a technology called CRISPR, an experimental technique that allows practitioners to alter DNA by transfecting an embryo with cells containing cut and repair enzymes. Though CRISPR technology has a long and complex history, its use in altering human embryos only began in 2015, with research primarily taking place in China, where scientists have been experimenting with curative interventions for rare blood disorders and cancer.
A variety of factors account for the slow development of CRISPR studies in the US. Both Congress and the NIH have expressed unwillingness to support human-gene editing research. Additionally, the scientific community is not well poised to resolve the ethical dilemmas inherent in this endeavor, evidenced by the dearth of clearly articulated guidelines circumscribing the parameters of human embryonic research. Find out more in the full article here!