Tag: genes

Bioethics Blogs

Will CRISPR fears fade with familiarity?

With all these ‘test tube’ babies grown up, how have our reactions to the technology evolved? AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The first “test-tube baby” made headlines around the world in 1978, setting off intense debate on the ethics of researching human embryos and reproductive technologies. Every breakthrough since then has raised the same questions about “designer babies” and “playing God” – but public response has grown more subdued rather than more engaged as assisted reproductive technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

As the science has advanced, doctors are able to perform more complex procedures with better-than-ever success rates. This progress has made in vitro fertilization and associated assisted reproductive technologies relatively commonplace. Over one million babies have been born in the U.S. using IVF since 1985.

And Americans’ acceptance of these technologies has evolved alongside their increased usage, as we’ve gotten used to the idea of physicians manipulating embryos.

But the ethical challenges posed by these procedures remain – and in fact are increasing along with our capabilities. While still a long way from clinical use, the recent news that scientists in Oregon had successfully edited genes in a human embryo brings us one step closer to changing the DNA that we pass along to our descendants. As the state of the science continues to advance, ethical issues need to be addressed before the next big breakthrough.

Birth of the test-tube baby era

Louise Brown was born in the U.K. on July 25, 1978. Known as the first “test-tube baby,” she was a product of IVF, a process where an egg is fertilized by sperm outside of the body before being implanted into the womb.

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.

Bioethics News

CRISPR, Pigs, Organs, Ethics: Some Key Considerations

Michael S. Dauber, M.A., GBI Visiting Scholar

Luhan Yang and members of her research team at eGenesis have taken a crucial step in growing organs in animals that may be used to provide organs for therapeutic transplants in humans, according to a study published in Science Magazine on Thursday, August 10th. Researchers involved in the study used CRISPR, a genetic editing technique, to “knock out” 25 genes that cause porcine endogenous retroviruses (sometimes referred to as “PERV genes”) that make ordinary pig organs unsuitable for transplants because PERVs can infect human transplant recipients. The result was the birth of 37 baby pigs without PERV genes.

The move comes at a time when CRISPR experiments are becoming increasingly popular. Last week, a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published the results of the first successful attempt to modify human embryos using CRISPR by American scientists in Nature. The researchers successfully deleted a gene responsible for several fatal heart conditions.

While the results are a significant step in developing techniques for growing organs suitable for human transplantation, scientists must still travel a long road before any human patients will receive such organs. Researchers will need to determine whether or not organs from pigs developed using CRISPR can be safely and effectively transplanted into other animals first. Another hurdle is the cost and complexity of the technique: Yang’s experiments with her team involved embryos produced through cloning, an expensive technique that is not always completely effective: indeed, in Yang’s study, only a few of the cloned embryos were viable.

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.

Bioethics News

The Creator of the Pig-Human Chimera Keeps Proving Other Scientists Wrong

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte had spent years probing the inner workings of embryos, ferreting out the genes that give a body its shape or allow wings to form instead of legs. He’d tracked wafting chemical messengers that, like traffic police, guide streams of dividing cells either left or right. He’d even found a way to tweak animals to grow extra limbs

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Charlie Gard Post-Mortem: Could He Have Been Saved?

Charlie Gard would have turned one year old tomorrow.

Two days before the British infant died of a mitochondrial disease on July 28, a short article in MIT Technology Review teased that Shoukhrat Mtalipov and his team at Oregon Health & Science University and colleagues had used CRISPR-Cas9 to replace a mutation in human embryos, a titillating heads-up that didn’t actually name the gene or disease.

Yesterday Nature published the details of what the researchers call gene correction, not editing, because it uses natural DNA repair. I covered the news conference, with a bit of perspective, for Genetic Literacy Project.

Might gene editing enable Charlie’s parents, who might themselves develop mild symptoms as they age, to have another child free of the family’s disease? Could anything have saved the baby?

A TRAGIC CASE

The court hearing testimony on the case between Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the family, published April 11, chronicles the sad story. The hospital had requested discontinuing life support based on the lack of tested treatment.

Charlie was born August 4, 2016, at full term and of a good weight, but by a few weeks of age, his parents noticed that he could no longer lift his head nor support any part of his body. By the October 2 pediatrician visit, Charlie hadn’t gained any weight, despite frequent breastfeeding. After an MRI and EEG, Charlie had a nasogastric tube inserted to introduce high-caloric nutrition.

By October 11, the baby was lethargic, his breathing shallow. So his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, took him to GOSH.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Charlie Gard Post-Mortem: Could He Have Been Saved?

Charlie Gard would have turned one year old tomorrow.

Two days before the British infant died of a mitochondrial disease on July 28, a short article in MIT Technology Review teased that Shoukhrat Mtalipov and his team at Oregon Health & Science University and colleagues had used CRISPR-Cas9 to replace a mutation in human embryos, a titillating heads-up that didn’t actually name the gene or disease.

Yesterday Nature published the details of what the researchers call gene correction, not editing, because it uses natural DNA repair. I covered the news conference, with a bit of perspective, for Genetic Literacy Project.

Might gene editing enable Charlie’s parents, who might themselves develop mild symptoms as they age, to have another child free of the family’s disease? Could anything have saved the baby?

A TRAGIC CASE

The court hearing testimony on the case between Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the family, published April 11, chronicles the sad story. The hospital had requested discontinuing life support based on the lack of tested treatment.

Charlie was born August 4, 2016, at full term and of a good weight, but by a few weeks of age, his parents noticed that he could no longer lift his head nor support any part of his body. By the October 2 pediatrician visit, Charlie hadn’t gained any weight, despite frequent breastfeeding. After an MRI and EEG, Charlie had a nasogastric tube inserted to introduce high-caloric nutrition.

By October 11, the baby was lethargic, his breathing shallow. So his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, took him to GOSH.

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.

Bioethics News

American CRISPR Experiments and the Future of Regulation

By Michael S. Dauber, MA, GBI Visiting Scholar

According to a report in The MIT Technology Review, researchers in a lab based in Portland, Oregon have successfully created genetically modified human embryos for the first time in U.S. history, using a technique called CRISPR. The project, directed by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, was published in Nature, and consisted of modifying the genes of human embryos to prevent a severe, genetically inherited heart condition. The embryos were destroyed several days after the experiments.

CRISPR stands for “clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats.” It is a genetic editing technique that allows scientists to cut out pieces of DNA and replace them with other pieces. CRISPR originated as a naturally occurring cellular defense system in certain bacterial that allows a cell to defend itself from foreign genetic material injected into cells by viruses. RNA strands that match the problematic genes bind with the piece of DNA to be removed, and enzymes work to remove the defective material. When CRISPR is used to edit the human genome, scientists apply CRISPR RNA strands and the corresponding enzymes that match the genes they wish to edit in order to extract the problematic genes.

Mitalipov is not the first scientist to use CRISPR to edit the human genome. Scientists in China have been using the technique in research using human embryos dating back to 2015. One notable study consisted of attempts to make cells resistant to HIV. Another controversial study involved the injection of CRISPR-modified cells into a patient with advanced lung cancer.

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.

Bioethics News

In a First, Scientists Rid Human Embryos of a Potentially Fatal Gene Mutation by Editing their DNA

August 3, 2017

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Using a powerful gene-editing technique, scientists have rid human embryos of a mutation responsible for an inherited form of heart disease that’s often deadly to healthy young athletes and adults in their prime.

The experiment marks the first time that scientists have altered the human genome to erase a disease-causing mutation not only from the DNA of the primary subject but from the genes of his or her progeny as well.

The controversial procedure, known as “germ-line editing,” was conducted at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland using human embryos expressly created for the purpose. It was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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Image: Oregon Health & Science University via LA Times

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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.

Bioethics Blogs

Human genome editing: We should all have a say

Françoise Baylis stresses that decisions about the modification of the human germline should not be made without broad societal consultation.

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Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, is nothing if not a pioneer. In 2007, his team published proof-of-principle research in primates showing it was possible to derive stem cells from cloned primate embryos. In 2013, his team was the first to create human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Now, in 2017, his team has reported safely and effectively modifying human embryos with the MYBPC3 mutation (which causes myocardial disease) using the gene editing technique CRISPR.

Mitalipov’s team is not the first to genetically modify human embryos. This was first accomplished in 2015 by a group of Chinese scientists led by Junjiu Huang. Mitalipov’s team, however, may be the first to demonstrate basic safety and efficacy using the CRISPR technique.

This has serious implications for the ethics debate on human germline modification which involves inserting, deleting or replacing the DNA of human sperm, eggs or embryos to change the genes of future children.

Those who support human embryo research will argue that Mitalipov’s research to alter human embryos is ethically acceptable because the embryos were not allowed to develop beyond 14 days (the widely accepted international limit on human embryo research) and because the modified embryos were not used to initiate a pregnancy. They will also point to the future potential benefit of correcting defective genes that cause inherited disease.

This research is ethically controversial, however, because it is a clear step on the path to making heritable modifications – genetic changes that can be passed down through subsequent generations.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

The goal of human embryonic gene editing is enhancement

As Jon Holmlund reported in his post last week, research on the editing of genes in human embryos is now being conducted in the United States. The door to doing this research was opened by the consensus report on Human Genome Editing published by the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. That report encouraged the pursuit of research on gene editing in human embryos and justified that based on the potential benefit of editing human embryos to correct genes for serious human genetic disorders. The report recommended that once basic research could show the reliability of the gene editing techniques it would be reasonable to proceed with human clinical trials as long as those trials involved the correction of genes responsible for serious genetic disorders. They stated that there were significantly more moral concerns about using human genome editing for enhancement and that enhancement should not be pursued until those moral concerns were resolved. Thus, the research currently being done in Portland, Oregon by Shoukhrat Mitalipov (see article in MIT Technology Review) involves creating human embryos with a single gene genetic disorder and then editing the abnormal gene to remove the disorder.

However, the idea that human germline genetic modification should be pursued to correct serious genetic disorders is a flawed concept. The technique used by Mitalipov does not involve treatment of a diseased human embryo, but the creation at the time of conception of a genetically altered embryo. Since the goal of this procedure is not the treatment of a diseased individual, but the creation of a child free of a particular genetic disease for parents who desire such a genetically related child, there is a much simpler and already available means to accomplish that goal.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Human genome editing: We should all have a say

Controversial gene editing should not proceed without citizen input and societal consensus. (Shutterstock)

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, is nothing if not a pioneer. In 2007, his team published proof-of-principle research in primates showing it was possible to derive stem cells from cloned primate embryos. In 2013, his team was the first to create human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Now, in 2017, his team is reported to have safely and effectively modified human embryos using the gene editing technique CRISPR.

Mitalipov’s team is not the first to genetically modify human embryos. This was first accomplished in 2015 by a group of Chinese scientists led by Junjiu Huang. Mitalipov’s team, however, may be the first to demonstrate basic safety and efficacy using the CRISPR technique.

This has serious implications for the ethics debate on human germline modification which involves inserting, deleting or replacing the DNA of human sperm, eggs or embryos to change the genes of future children.

Ethically controversial

Those who support human embryo research will argue that Mitalipov’s research to alter human embryos is ethically acceptable because the embryos were not allowed to develop beyond 14 days (the widely accepted international limit on human embryo research) and because the modified embryos were not used to initiate a pregnancy. They will also point to the future potential benefit of correcting defective genes that cause inherited disease.

This research is ethically controversial, however, because it is a clear step on the path to making heritable modifications – genetic changes that can be passed down through subsequent generations.

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.