According to MIT, the work was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who comes from the Oregon Health and Science University. Although details are scarce at this point, sources familiar with the work assert that the research involved changing the DNA of one-cell embryos using CRISPR gene-editing. Further, Mitalipov is believed to have broken records in two notable ways:
He broke the record on the number of embryos experimented upon.
He is the first researcher to ever conclusively demonstrate that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.
It is important to note that none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days, and that the team never had any intention of implanting them into a womb. However, it seems that this is largely due to ongoing regulatory issues, as opposed to issues with the technology itself.
In the United States, all efforts to turn edited embryos into a baby—to bring the embryo to full term—have been blocked by Congress, which added language to the Department of Health and Human Services funding bill that forbids it from approving any such clinical trials.
Yet, the potential of the CRISPR-Cas9 system as a gene editing technology is undeniable. As previously mentioned, it has seen success in developing possible cancer treatments, in making animals disease-resistant, and it has even shown promise in replacing antibiotics altogether.
Removing genetic defects is going to be the first application of gene editing but the technology will not stop there. Changing eye colour, hair colour, skin tone etc are all within the grasp of the technology today. It will probably be another decade before intelligence, temperament or drive can be customised. There are clear ethical considerations for these sorts of enhancements but the discussion is taking place most vocally in North America and Europe. Asia does not have the same moral structure and will be the primary location for genetic experimentation as a result.
The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index broke out in a dynamic manner at the end of June and has so far held the advance. It is being led higher by the immune oncology sector which is at the forefront of genetic editing aimed at re-educating T-cells to fight cancer but many of the discoveries are transferrable to genetic editing generally. A sustained move below the trend mean would be required to question medium-term recovery potential.
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