First Human Embryos Edited in U.S. - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#14827979
MIT Technology Review wrote:
First Human Embryos Edited in U.S.

Researchers have demonstrated they can efficiently improve the DNA of human embryos.

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb—the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.

In altering the DNA code of human embryos, the objective of scientists is to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like the blood condition beta-thalassemia. The process is termed “germline engineering” because any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells—the egg and sperm.

Some critics say germline experiments could open the floodgates to a brave new world of “designer babies” engineered with genetic enhancements—a prospect bitterly opposed by a range of religious organizations, civil society groups, and biotech companies.

The U.S. intelligence community last year called CRISPR a potential "weapon of mass destruction.”

Image
Shoukhrat Mitalipov is the first U.S.-based scientist known to have edited the DNA of human

Reached by Skype, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication. But other scientists confirmed the editing of embryos using CRISPR. “So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the U.S.,” says Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who played a role in the project.
Better technique

The earlier Chinese publications, although limited in scope, found CRISPR caused editing errors and that the desired DNA changes were taken up not by all the cells of an embryo, only some. That effect, called mosaicism, lent weight to arguments that germline editing would be an unsafe way to create a person.
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But Mitalipov and his colleagues are said to have convincingly shown that it is possible to avoid both mosaicism and “off-target” effects, as the CRISPR errors are known.

A person familiar with the research says “many tens” of human IVF embryos were created for the experiment using the donated sperm of men carrying inherited disease mutations. Embryos at this stage are tiny clumps of cells invisible to the naked eye. MIT Technology Review could not determine which disease genes had been chosen for editing.

“It is proof of principle that it can work. They significantly reduced mosaicism. I don’t think it’s the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before,” said a scientist familiar with the project.

Mitalipov’s group appears to have overcome earlier difficulties by “getting in early” and injecting CRISPR into the eggs at the same time they were fertilized with sperm.

That concept is similar to one tested in mice by Tony Perry of Bath University. Perry successfully edited the mouse gene for coat color, changing the fur of the offspring from the expected brown to white.

Somewhat prophetically, Perry’s paper on the research, published at the end of 2014, said, “This or analogous approaches may one day enable human genome targeting or editing during very early development.”

Genetic enhancement

Born in Kazakhstan when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Mitalipov has for years pushed scientific boundaries. In 2007, he unveiled the world’s first cloned monkeys. Then, in 2013, he created human embryos through cloning, as a way of creating patient-specific stem cells.

His team’s move into embryo editing coincides with a report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in February that was widely seen as providing a green light for lab research on germline modification.

The report also offered qualified support for the use of CRISPR for making gene-edited babies, but only if it were deployed for the elimination of serious diseases.

The advisory committee drew a red line at genetic enhancements—like higher intelligence. “Genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people,” said Alta Charo, co-chair of the NAS’s study committee and professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

In the U.S., any effort to turn an edited IVF embryo into a baby has been blocked by Congress, which added language to the Department of Health and Human Services funding bill forbidding it from approving clinical trials of the concept.

Despite such barriers, the creation of a gene-edited person could be attempted at any moment, including by IVF clinics operating facilities in countries where there are no such legal restrictions.

I'm glad we didn't listen to ethics professors back when we developed nuclear weapons.

Sometimes I wonder if people like Alta Charo and this committee are actually serious. If a technology is potentially dangerous, does it make sense to restrict or stop its development in your own country, knowing that other countries are working on it? Or would it perhaps be better to know everything about it? As for this being available only to some people, is the committee not aware that there are other countries out there which, as the article mentions, will almost certainly make it available?

Ironically, we should be glad that we have so many incurable illnesses, as this is not the only area where medicine provides a justification for scientific advances that overrides progressive (and in this case religious) sensibilities.
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#14827984
Very interesting. You can not stop something like this, but a little fear is probably a good idea. I would prefer we had a better understanding of intelligence before we tried to improve upon it. :roll: That is my only real concern is science attempting things before they know enough, but... :|
#14827994
There is no clear line between medical conditions and traits in general. Many illnesses cause physical deformities, mental retardation and abnormal behaviours and many of them have been shown to be complex in terms of their genetics. As far as I can tell, they are no less difficult or complicated than a trait such as intelligence. The opposition to improving traits, as opposed to health, is really purely ideological.
#14828004
Kaiserschmarrn wrote:There is no clear line between medical conditions and traits in general. Many illnesses cause physical deformities, mental retardation and abnormal behaviours and many of them have been shown to be complex in terms of their genetics. As far as I can tell, they are no less difficult or complicated than a trait such as intelligence. The opposition to improving traits, as opposed to health, is really purely ideological.


Yeah, I only mentioned intelligence because the article did. My comment about them knowing enough was a general comment, but thank you for the additional info.
#14828089
@Kaiserschmarrn Journal article? Also there is a well-understood genetic link to many traits that cause disorders or medical conditions. For example your chances of getting a heart attack or stroke is governed by genetics just as much as it is by your lifestyle. Ever hear about people getting a heart attack at 18? Those are people who have two non functional alleles for a surface protein in blood vessel cells that help absorb fats (along with poor lifestyle choices of course).
#14828092
@MememyselfandIJK, from the article:
Reached by Skype, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication. But other scientists confirmed the editing of embryos using CRISPR. “So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the U.S.,” says Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who played a role in the project.


MememyselfandIJK wrote:Also there is a well-understood genetic link to many traits that cause disorders or medical conditions. For example your chances of getting a heart attack or stroke is governed by genetics just as much as it is by your lifestyle. Ever hear about people getting a heart attack at 18? Those are people who have two non functional alleles for a surface protein in blood vessel cells that help absorb fats (along with poor lifestyle choices of course).

Yes, which is why I said in the OP:
Ironically, we should be glad that we have so many incurable illnesses, as this is not the only area where medicine provides a justification for scientific advances that overrides progressive (and in this case religious) sensibilities.
#14828686
germline experiments could open the floodgates to a brave new world of “designer babies” engineered with genetic enhancements


Good, bring it on. Better people = better societies. Genetic specialization = more efficient societies. Brave new world is best new world.
#14828699
Igor Antunov wrote:What is a better horse?

Better person in the context of a cohesive, productive technological society is one that is genetically geared for a certain profession while being easy to control.

Thank you Mr. Spock. ;)
#14828709
Now if we had even the vaguest idea what a better person is. :lol:

Precisely. Can you imagine what the result might have been if, say, the Neanderthals or even Homo erectus had been able to impose their vision of what a "better person" should be on the human genome? The fact that current humans, who are clearly a deeply flawed and imperfect species, should have the power to decide these things is... troubling.
#14828712
It will always be troubling. There will be no time and place where we couldn't wring our hands and worry about what people think a better human looks like.

In the end it doesn't matter. We will change as we've always changed and be imperfect in slightly different ways than we are now. It will make little ultimate difference. We will also have cured some diseases and have a higher quality of life so it's worth it I think.
#14828736
Uh-hu.

Pandoras Box is opened.

The moment these things are legalized, they WILL be abused.

I hope that in the long run, this will be beneficial for mankind. Removeal of undesired genetic defects, adding of the ability to generate for example vitamin D without sunlight, or process milk sugar in any adult, and eventually the real goodies such as attaining negligible senescence, the ability to regrow lost limbs, and immunity to cancer.

But the first steps in this direction can have really ugly results, and I feel very sorry for all children who might suffer the consequences.
#14829538
Here's the paper mentioned in the OP.

Nature wrote:
Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos

Genome editing has potential for the targeted correction of germline mutations. Here we describe the correction of the heterozygous MYBPC3 mutation in human preimplantation embryos with precise CRISPR–Cas9-based targeting accuracy and high homology-directed repair efficiency by activating an endogenous, germline-specific DNA repair response. Induced double-strand breaks (DSBs) at the mutant paternal allele were predominantly repaired using the homologous wild-type maternal gene instead of a synthetic DNA template. By modulating the cell cycle stage at which the DSB was induced, we were able to avoid mosaicism in cleaving embryos and achieve a high yield of homozygous embryos carrying the wild-type MYBPC3 gene without evidence of off-target mutations. The efficiency, accuracy and safety of the approach presented suggest that it has potential to be used for the correction of heritable mutations in human embryos by complementing preimplantation genetic diagnosis. However, much remains to be considered before clinical applications, including the reproducibility of the technique with other heterozygous mutations.


Potemkin wrote:Precisely. Can you imagine what the result might have been if, say, the Neanderthals or even Homo erectus had been able to impose their vision of what a "better person" should be on the human genome? The fact that current humans, who are clearly a deeply flawed and imperfect species, should have the power to decide these things is... troubling.

But we do decide today what a better person should be, e.g. more tolerance and openness is considered to be desirable. And while our tools are today restricted to environmental interventions, we have no problem or ethical concerns to use them starting from a very early age. As a Stalinist I'd also expect you to be quite happy with using intense propaganda and threats to make people "good communists".
#14829548
But we do decide today what a better person should be, e.g. more tolerance and openness is considered to be desirable. And while our tools are today restricted to environmental interventions, we have no problem or ethical concerns to use them starting from a very early age. As a Stalinist I'd also expect you to be quite happy with using intense propaganda and threats to make people "good communists".

But the whole point of Communist ideology is to render itself obsolete. Marxism, like any other ideology, is merely the product of a particular stage in the historical process of human society (in this case, the rise of industrial capitalism). It is both an expression of that stage, and one of the means by which it can be superseded and replaced by a new stage of human progress, which will in turn give rise to new ideologies, which will in turn eventually become obsolete. The problem I have with Igor's fantasies of creating the 'perfect' human is that it is completely ahistorical, static and non-dialectical. It is a sterile and irreversible 'perfection' which, by definition, is incapable of further change or development. This search for a static 'perfection' is actually a disguised search for death. Just like Igor, I believe in the desirablility of progress, but it should be a dialectical progress, which has no true end and which is not imposed from without but which arises from its own inner nature, its own internal conflicts and contradictions.
#14829554
I would not say tolerance and openness are desirable traits. They have their place, but so does intolerance and being inflexible. These are things that each human and/or their current society need to decide. The desirability of a trait is determined by your environment. Being tolerant when confronted by those who wish to harm you, would not be very desirable.
#14829560
Potemkin wrote:But the whole point of Communist ideology is to render itself obsolete. Marxism, like any other ideology, is merely the product of a particular stage in the historical process of human society (in this case, the rise of industrial capitalism). It is both an expression of that stage, and one of the means by which it can be superseded and replaced by a new stage of human progress, which will in turn give rise to new ideologies, which will in turn eventually become obsolete. The problem I have with Igor's fantasies of creating the 'perfect' human is that it is completely ahistorical, static and non-dialectical. It is a sterile and irreversible 'perfection' which, by definition, is incapable of further change or development. This search for a static 'perfection' is actually a disguised search for death. Just like Igor, I believe in the desirablility of progress, but it should be a dialectical progress, which has no true end and which is not imposed from without but which arises from its own inner nature, its own internal conflicts and contradictions.

We may be talking past each other. My question essentially is why it is so troubling to use genetic engineering when every ideology uses large scale social engineering as a matter of course. I brought up Communism because it has historically used the latter in a rather extreme fashion, by sending for example suspected and actual ideological deviants to gulags and so on.

Social engineering isn't benign and does have a lasting effect. And since our genes are influenced by the environment, humans have always engaged in some form of assortative mating and euthanasia/abortion, and there is increasing evidence that even some epigenetic changes are inherited, we may well be doing a rather blunt, very slow and comparatively incompetent version of genetic engineering anyway, the outcomes of which are unknown and may only be observable when the generation who imposed it is dead.

Further, Igor's idea of perfection is also a product of the current state of human society. An Igor born 100 years in the future would almost certainly have a different idea about what perfection means. And genetic changes introduced via editing are no more immutable or irreversible than genetic changes due to environmental factors or social changes themselves.
#14829574
We may be talking past each other. My question essentially is why it is so troubling to use genetic engineering when every ideology uses large scale social engineering as a matter of course. I brought up Communism because it has historically used the latter in a rather extreme fashion, by sending for example suspected and actual ideological deviants to gulags and so on.

Social engineering isn't benign and does have a lasting effect. And since our genes are influenced by the environment, humans have always engaged in some form of assortative mating and euthanasia/abortion, and there is increasing evidence that even some epigenetic changes are inherited, we may well be doing a rather blunt, very slow and comparatively incompetent version of genetic engineering anyway, the outcomes of which are unknown and may only be observable when the generation who imposed it is dead.

Further, Igor's idea of perfection is also a product of the current state of human society. An Igor born 100 years in the future would almost certainly have a different idea about what perfection means. And genetic changes introduced via editing are no more immutable or irreversible than genetic changes due to environmental factors or social changes themselves.

That clarifies things a bit more; thank you. I suppose the basic problem I have with it is that it separates the genetic changes in humanity from the environmental factors. After all, even the political system of a human society is part of the environment of the individuals in that society; the enforced changes made to the population by a government are merely induced adaptations to a changing social environment. They are therefore not fully under the control of that government, and the dialectical interaction between the development of humanity and its environment remains intact. In this respect, the final collapse of the Soviet system was actually the revenge of dialectics on the Soviet government, which is rather ironic, all things considered. The current ability to directly manipulate the human genome to produce a 'perfect' humanity is troubling to me precisely because it severs that connection between the development of humanity and its environment, and is therefore non-dialectical. It runs the risk of producing a dangerous mis-match between the 'perfected' humanity and its environment - after all, our conceptualisations of reality are no more than vastly simplified and impoverished simplifications and abstractions from that reality, and can serious mislead us concerning the nature of that reality. You only need to read PoFo to realise that. Basically, I am concerned that reality is wiser than we are and may take its revenge on us, just as it took its revenge on the Soviet system.
#14829661
Kaiserschmarrn wrote:Sometimes I wonder if people like Alta Charo and this committee are actually serious. If a technology is potentially dangerous, does it make sense to restrict or stop its development in your own country, knowing that other countries are working on it? Or would it perhaps be better to know everything about it?


Actually I agree with you here. Because of the technology, as a nation you are better off to invest in the research if other leading nations are doing so. However depending on how the technology is used it could be ethically immoral and potentially dangerous to a just society. Natually there are health benefits too that can't be overlooked. But like any advancing technology these days, it seems you have to take the cons with the pros. So it is up to nations to put in place laws to prevent manipulation and corruption in this technology. Otherwise we are indeed in danger of a 'Brave New World'. And being WE are all imperfect somehow we are all in danger of being second class citizens in a world of perfect intelligence and strength.

Ironically, we should be glad that we have so many incurable illnesses, as this is not the only area where medicine provides a justification for scientific advances that overrides progressive (and in this case religious) sensibilities.


In an ideal world this is not true. Ideally we would all be healthy of incurable diseases so there be no justification for this technology. But unfortunately nature is not fair.
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