Last year, it was reported Chinese scientists would eventually attempt a surgery that would alter a human’s DNA using a tool known as CRISPR. Essentially, they would be able to “cut and paste” DNA by replacing bad cells with modified T-cells that would prove healthier over time and prevent diseases like cancer. Now, a similar study has been performed here in the US, marking the first time in the country’s history such an operation was performed.
To perform the study as published in the Nature journal, scientists tried two different techniques to remove a dangerous heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The first method consisted of inserting what are essentially genetic “scissors” into fertilized eggs using the CRISPR-Cas9 editing tool and cutting & pasting new cells to rid the part of the DNA that contained the disease, known as the male MYBPC3 gene. This resulted in some successions, but more failures as unwanted mutated cells were still present afterward. The second method proved to be the most favored, as inserting both the scissors and sperm at the same time into the egg wouldn’t result in any unwanted mutations and would ultimately wipe the cells of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Clearly, this breakthrough could prove to be crucial to the future of the human population. On the other hand, things could go completely haywire. Scientists fear people will eventually want to create what they’re calling “designer babies” in which parents can select which features they want their offspring to have (e.g. blonde hair, green eyes, small nose, size 10 foot). Therefore, researchers want to put guidelines and laws into practice to prevent occurrences like this to happen. Of course, mutating a baby’s cells so it isn’t born with any birth defects or serious diseases is one thing, but choosing whether to make your kid a redhead or brunette is pretty much like playing God.
That being said, at least we’re getting somewhere with this research. “It feels a bit like a ‘one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind’ moment,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist who helped discover CRISPR-Cas9 but wasn’t involved in this study, said in an email to The New York Times. “I expect these results will be encouraging to those who hope to use human embryo editing for either research or eventual clinical purposes.”
But this technique still isn’t perfect. Despite finding a way to remove one heart disease from an egg, much more testing needs to be conducted before any of this can go mainstream. Like I said, guidelines will need to be put into practice before you can have doctors ensure your child won’t suffer from a disease down the road. But hey, we’re getting somewhere.