Gene modification experiment in human embryos carried out by Chinese scientists led to controversies all over the world which focused on moral, ethical and even clinical issues associated with the experiment. Many scientists are not in favor of the same as it may prove to be dangerous for humans. The research by Chinese scientists was published in the journal Protein & Cell on April 18 and it demonstrated the use of a genetic engineering technique known as CRISPR to replace a faulty gene with a healthy one in human embryos.
With the help of gene editing technique, the DNA of every cell can be altered and the changes pass from generation to generation. The new research prompted many leading researchers to issue urgent calls in major scientific journals to stop using such techniques on human embryos. Chinese scientists were not trying to produce a baby but just wanted to have an embryo having precisely altered gene in every cell without any inadvertent DNA damage. However, their experiment failed exactly the same way that had been feared.
For the experiment they used 86 non-viable human embryos which cannot result in a live birth. The experiment was carried out in order to modify the gene responsible for thalassaemia, which is a potentially fatal blood disorder. A gene editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9 was used. Out of all the embryos used in the experiment, 71 survived. 54 of them were genetically tested. It was revealed that 28 were successfully spliced and only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material.
George Q Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard stated “Their study should give pause to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes during IVF. This is an unsafe procedure and should not be practiced at this time, and perhaps never.” David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate molecular biologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology said the failure of Chinese scientists shows how immature the science is.