China did it once again

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Junjiu Huang is back. Two years later, Protein & Cell publishes another study by the team which first edited human embryos in 2015 sparking uproar. They targeted the gene responsible for beta thalassemia, once again. This time, however, in place of using embryos discarded by fertilization clinics, they resorted to cloning. Furthermore, Huang and colleagues employed a CRISPR variant called base editor changing a single DNA letter without even cutting the double helix. The news is circulating among experts but has not yet attracted the media spotlight. Stem cell specialist Alessandro Bertero has brought it to the attention of CRISPeR Frenzy. According to the researcher involved in the British experiment just published in Nature, the latest paper from China is far from perfect but it’s quite interesting anyway (see his technical comment below). Continue reading

Editing embryos, the British way

embrioni UK.docxThey are the first human embryos edited in Europe and reported in scientific literature. The key difference with experiments already carried out in China and US is that the research published by Nature last week doesn’t have embryonic gene therapy in view. The London Francis Crick’s Institute team, in fact, was not interested in correcting disease-causing mutations but in increasing knowledge on human embryonic development. We asked one of the authors, Alessandro Bertero, to explain goals and results. The Italian researcher was pursuing his Ph.D. at Cambridge when he helped to refine the technique used by Kathy Niakan and colleagues to edit the genome of embryos. He answered our questions via Skype from America, where he continues working on embryonic stem cells as a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University Continue reading

Edited embryos. Why to say yes or no

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The exploit announced last week by Nature marks an advancement in CRISPR performance in human embryos big enough to say that yes, germ line editing will probably become a viable option sooner or later. It means that some genetic diseases (at least those caused by a single mutation) can be corrected not only in the treated individuals but also in their offspring. The idea of genetic diseases disappearing from the face of Earth is bound to remain a dream, as Eric Lander explained at the 2015 Washington Summit on Human Gene Editing. In short, with rare Mendelian diseases, the vast majority of situations can currently be addressed by in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, while complex diseases are, well, too complex to handle. Anyway, when you come to efficiency and accuracy, results achieved by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and colleagues are exciting: CRISPR science walks on robust and fast legs. As for the bioethics of the experiment, we should try not to get stuck with overused labels. Continue reading