Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, has lead the team that carried out the first attempt to genetically modify human embryos with CRISPR.
The aim of this project was to demonstrate that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases in humans. Indeed, this is gene editing in human embryos but with the purpose to avoid genetic disease, not to create “designer babies” or “super humans”.
Mitalipov team design the embryos gene editing improving the technique. They injected CRISPR tools into the egg at the same time that the sperm. In this way, the CRISPR tools will be working since the fertilization of the egg, being able to target every single cell to avoid mosaicism problems, where some cells are edited and not others. Mosaicism problems were reported by the Chinese group that previously attempt to edit human embryos, but Mitalipov confirmed they overcome that problem in their experiments, injecting CRISPR at the same time of the fertilization of the egg. The human embryos were developed only for a few days to track the gene editing event was achieved in every cell. There was never the intention of implanting them into a womb to develop a real human.
With the success of this project, this may be the starting point of further studies to be able to genetically modify human embryos to avoid genetic diseases to ensure healthy babies and to prevent the genetic mutations are spread into the next generations.
A full report of this notice can be read in the website of MIT Technology Review