Tag: embryos

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About That “First Gene-Edited Human Embryos” Story…..

July 28, 2017

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By Henry T. Greely

BREAKING NEWS: The sky is not falling. Brave New World and GATTACA are not right around the corner. And the newest “designer baby” breakthrough is, at most, an interesting incremental step.

The last few days have seen enormous attention paid to an unpublished human embryo paper—one, quite possibly, as yet unread by anyone commenting on it. According to the MIT Technology Review, Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health Sciences University will soon publish a paper about his successful use of the hot DNA technology CRISPR—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—to modify viable human embryos.

“According to people familiar with the scientific results,” Mitalipov edited “a large number of one-cell embryos.” Mitalipov and colleagues “are said to have convincingly shown” that they could avoid two problems encountered in other CRISPR experiments in editing embryos: off target effects, where CRISPR changes the wrong bits of DNA, and mosaicism, where CRISPR changes some cells but not all. The embryos were destroyed after “a few days” and were never intended to be transferred into a woman’s uterus for possible implantation and birth. Sperm from men carrying disease mutations was used to make the embryos, though Technology Review “could not determine which disease genes had been chosen for editing.”  The story discusses legal bans on making babies using this method but ends with “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.“

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Human genetic editing (engineering) is here

A “hat tip” again to Wesley Smith, who at the National Review Online blog, provided a link to this week’s report in the MIT Technology Review that the first editing of genes in human embryos in the US is underway—and apparently not yet formally published—at an academic center in Portland, Oregon.  Similar efforts have been undertaken in China, but US scientists have been a little more tentative about taking this step in humans.

In 2015, US scientists were clearly against trying to initiate a pregnancy with an IVF embryo whose genes had been altered in the laboratory.  They were, apparently, divided on whether experiments on early human embryos, sperm, or eggs in the laboratory were “responsible.”

This blog discussed the matter back then.

Earlier this year, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine were more open to proceeding with changing human genes in a way that would be permanent—inherited from generation to generation—as long as the process was done as carefully as they thought it could be. 

The work still appears to be held very close to the vest.  Funded by private money—the law prohibits public expenditures for this kind of work on humans—the MIT report says the Oregon scientists changed some genes (the MIT reporters did not find out which ones) in “many dozens” of IVF embryos that were created and destroyed specifically for research.

The ultimate goal sounds laudable:  repairing genes that cause inherited disease.  The posts linked to above reviewed some of these arguments, or provided further links to those discussions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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First Human Embryos Edited in US

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

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Germ line genome editing. Current tendency is to accept it, with the ethical difficulties that it entails

In December 2015, an international summit took place in Washington D.C., convened by the United States National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, at which scientists, doctors, bioethicists and specialists in legal matters met to reach a consensus on the application of genome editing (see HERE) in humans, at both laboratory and clinical level.

As a result of this summit, a report was drawn up (see HERE) and has recently been published. The report tackles questions on the application of gene editing in humans, including the balance between the potential benefits and unintended harms, how to govern the use of genome editing, the incorporation of societal values into clinical applications and policy decisions, and respect for the differences across nations and cultures that will determine whether these new technologies will be used and how. One of the most relevant aspects of this report, however, is that it favors the use of genome editing techniques on the germ line, i.e. gametes and early embryos, although restricting their use only to the prevention of serious diseases and providing that there is no other alternative.

The risks of germ line genome editing are unpredictable, aggravated by the fact that the changes produced will be transmitted to offspring. An added concern is that their application to disease prevention could open the door to human enhancement or the production of designer children (see HERE), which would mean modifying our genome to make us stronger, taller, thinner, more intelligent, etc., which is known as transhumanism.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Transferring Embryos with Genetic Anomalies

Jackie Leach Scully argues that respect for equality and diversity, and not just respect for the parental autonomy and the welfare of the future child, should inform policies governing the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis.

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The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently published an Opinion on “Transferring embryos with genetic anomalies detected in preimplantation testing.” The Opinion aims to help providers deal with the rare but ethically difficult situation when prospective parents want to transfer embryos with a known genetic anomaly that is linked to a serious health-affecting disorder.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is typically used by couples to avoid transferring a genetic anomaly to their children. Using PGD to ensure the transfer of a genetic anomaly, rather than avoid it, seems deeply counter-intuitive. Yet, there are several scenarios where this might happen. For example, this might be a reasonable option when the only transferable embryos carry the genetic anomaly, or when the embryos carry a different, but potentially just as serious, genetic variation.

The most problematic cases, however, occur when prospective parents express an actual preference for children with ‘their’ genetic condition – an anomalous condition that others perceive in negative terms. It’s an uncommon situation, but despite its rarity steps have been taken to block attempts by prospective parents to ‘choose disability’, such as the UK’s legislation on reproductive medicine. The legislation prohibits the use of an embryo (or gamete, in the case of egg and sperm donation) that has a genetic anomaly “involving a significant risk” of “a serious physical or mental disability, serious illness, or a serious medical condition” unless there are no other unaffected embryos or gametes that could be used instead.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Legal status of human-animal chimeras – hybrid embryos

In addition to the biomedical problems raised by human-animal hybridization, there are also objective legal problems.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (2014; 40, 284-285) reviewed this topic following a debate in the United Kingdom (UK) House of Lords in December 2012. The underlying problem is to determine whether hybrids containing human biological material, mainly DNA, should be considered partially human and if so, what their legal status should be.

See our Special Report New advances and challenges in the production of human-animal chimeras

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFE Act 2008) regulates the legal aspects of human-animal hybrids. These hybrids refer to any embryo containing human nuclear or mitochondrial DNA as well as animal nuclear or mitochondrial DNA, but in which the animal DNA is not predominant. Other categories of hybrids can be legally regulated by the “Animal Act 1986”.

However, deciding which of the two categories into which hybrid embryos should fall is not that easy.

The English Health Minister, Lord Darzi of Denham, stated that hybrid embryos should be regulated by human statutes when they are considered to be “predominantly” human, which is not easy to determine. In fact, a chimeric embryo in which non-human cells were initially predominant could continue to develop into a hybrid in which human cells predominate.

Lord Darzi also stated that chimeric embryos that are “functionally” predominantly human should also be considered as human. However, the term “functionally human” is ambiguous, which complicates the issue of its legal status.

It was therefore concluded that the UK parliament needs to more definitively determine the legal status of embryos containing human and animal genetic material, following an extensive, in-depth debate that must take into account public opinion on this matter.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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The amazing finding of senescent cells in embryos. Until now, these cells had been found only in aging tissue

The discovery raises the possibility that the start and end of life are intimately connected

The process by which cells cease multiplying is known as senescence. In 1961, biologists Hayflick and Moorehead cryoconserved human fetal cells and found that these divide around 50 times and then simply stop doing so, as occurs in the human body (see recent article, AGING CELLS ARE KEY TO FINDING FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH)

In fact, senescent cells are involved in many of the signs of aging: wrinkled skin, cataracts, and arthritic joints, which are produced by the effect of an increase in these cells. On the contrary, it has been found that by decreasing senescent cells in mice, signs of rejuvenation can be detected in these animals.

Considering that in all research, senescent cells have been found only in old or damaged tissues, the last place one would expect to find them would be at the very beginning of life, in the embryo. Now, however, three scientific teams have reported that they have observed the same phenomenon at this point.

Senescent cells in embryos

For the first time, senescent cells have been found in embryos, and scientists have presented proof that senescence is crucial for their proper development.

This discovery raises the possibility that the start and end of life are intimately connected. In order for life to have a good start, senescent cells are needed, i.e. youth needs a little bit of old age.

Scott Lowe, an expert in senescence at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who did not participate in the research, has lauded the studies, which point to the unexpected role of old age, and predicted that it would provoke a spirited debate between developmental biologists, who study how embryos are formed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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In the Journals – June 2017, part one by Aaron Seaman

Anthropology and Aging (open access)

The Social Context of Collective Physical Training among Chinese Elderly: An Anthropological Case Study in a Park in Beijing

Yeori Park

This study analyzes the social context in China where the elderly participate in collective physical training, a cultural activity specific to the country. For this study, senior citizens aged 60 or above who participated in collective physical training in a park in Beijing were observed for five months. Research results found that collective physical training enables formation of social networks providing mutual caring and support. On the other hand, the participants conform to the self-disciplined modern discourse to survive in the post-Mao society. They do collective physical training due to their social conditions, such as the poorly established welfare system for the aged, severance pay that is too low to cover medical expenses. Although the participants seem to autonomously choose collective physical training based on their own preferences, the context of Chinese society, including hidden government intentions, leads the elderly to participate in training activities.

Social Contract on Elderly Caregiving in Contemporary Chile

Carola Salazar

This paper explores the definitions of social contract on elderly caregiving among a group of seven Chilean aging experts. The data show that for Chileans, family remains a strong institution that should provide care of its members, with daughters or daughters-in-law being the preferred person to provide care. Also, age segregation, along with the gradual privatization of services such as health care and the pension system, promotes individuality: this can become a problem for future generations because they are no longer concerned with helping others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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IVF and respect for the dignity of human life

This past Thursday through Saturday I was at the CBHD summer conference which was focused on genetic and reproductive technologies. One of the sessions that I found most interesting was the final session on Saturday in which representatives of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions of the Christian church discussed how their traditions view reproductive technology with a focus on in vitro fertilization. The Roman Catholic representative expressed some of the reasons why the Roman Catholic Church takes the position that all use of IVF is impermissible because it violates things that they see as essential in how God designed human beings to come into existence within a marriage relationship. The Orthodox representative said that while some Orthodox churches such as the Roman Orthodox Church have taken a specific position on IVF, most Orthodox churches see the decision about whether to use IVF in the treatment of infertility as a decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis with the infertile couple seeking the guidance of their bishop or spiritual mentor. The Protestant representative made it clear that there is not one Protestant position and identified himself as coming from an evangelical Protestant viewpoint. He said that most who have that point of view are primarily concerned about the moral problems of such things as the use of third-party gametes, surrogacy, and the destruction of excess embryos. He stated that IVF would generally be considered permissible as a treatment for infertility as long as those more problematic things were avoided.

During the question-and-answer time the Protestant representative was given a question about whether the fact that the destruction of human embryos was a necessary part of the development of the technique for IVF made the use of IVF today morally problematic.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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How CRISPR Yanked Jennifer Doudna Out of the Ivory Tower

June 27, 2017

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Jennifer Doudna remembers a moment when she realized how important CRIPSR—the gene-editing technique that she co-discovered—was going to be. It was in 2014, and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur had contacted Sam Sternberg, a biochemist who was then working in Doudna’s lab. Sternberg met with the entrepreneur in a Berkeley cafe, and she told him, with what he later described to Doudna as “a very bright look in her eye that was also a little scary,” that she wanted to start applying CRISPR to humans. She wanted to be the mother of the first baby whose genome had been edited with the technique. And she wanted to establish a business that would offer a menu of such edits to parents.

Nothing of the kind could currently happen in the U.S., where editing the genomes of human embryos is still verboten. But the entrepreneur apparently had connections that would allow her to offer such services in other countries. “That’s a true story,” Doudna told a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “That blew my mind. It was a heads-up that people were already thinking about this—that at some point, someone might announce that they had the first CRISPR baby.”

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The Atlantic

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.