Breaking Taboo: Swedish Scientist Modifies DNA in Human Embryos –“Ignores Ethical Boundaries of Science”

DAZE_IV_Lundy_Antony_Gormley_1600

In a recent experiment, a Swedish scientist, Fredrik Lanner, a developmental biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, attempted to modify the genes of a human embryos injecting a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 into carefully thawed five human embryos donated by couples who had gone through in vitro fertilization (IVF). One did not survive the cooling and thawing process, while another one was severely damaged while being injected. The remaining three embryos, which were two-days old when they were injected, survived in good shape, with one of them dividing immediately after being injected.


Scientists have viewed modifying a human embryo as over the line for safety and ethical concerns. The fear is that Lanner’s work could open the door to others attempting to use genetically modified embryos to make babies. One mistake could introduce a new disease in the human gene pool that can be inherited by future generations. Scientists are also concerned on the possibility of “designer babies,” where parents could choose traits they want for their babies.

Fredrik Lanner (right) of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his student Alvaro Plaza Reyes examine a magnified image of an human embryo that they used to attempt to create genetically modified healthy human embryos. (Credit: Rob Stein/NPR)

 

Dna-editing-1_wide-9643bc723642af9200cc477eda04be38b1a85db1-s800-c85

 

Making changes to the DNA in human embryos could accidentally introduce an error into the human gene pool, inadvertently creating a new disease that would be passed down for generations, critics say.

However, Lanner clarified that he is doing his experiment in order to further understand how genes regulate early embryonic development. He noted that his work could one day be used by scientists to develop new treatments for miscarriage and infertility. Additionally, Lanner also hopes to open new ways to use embryonic stem cells to treat many diseases.

“If we can understand how these early cells are regulated in the actual embryo, this knowledge will help us in the future to treat patients with diabetes, or Parkinson, or different types of blindness and other diseases,” explained Lanner, a developmental biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, in an exclusive interview with National Public Radio. “That’s another exciting area of research.”

The Daily Galaxy via CBS News and NPR

Image at top of page: sculpture by Antony Gormley

"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily