Swedish Scientist Edits DNA of Healthy Human Embryo Amidst Safety, Ethical Concerns

Sep 23, 2016 04:12 AM EDT

A Swedish scientist by the name Fredrik Lanner is waltzing through the ethical line of science as he attempts to edit the genes of a healthy human embryo.

According to the report from CBS News, modifying a human embryo has been considered taboo in the scientific community for safety and ethical concerns. One small slip up could introduce a new disease in the human gene pool that can be inherited by future generations. Scientists are also concerned on the possibility of "designer babies," where parents could choose traits they want for their babies.

However, Lanner clarified that he is doing his experiment in order to further understand how genes regulate early embryonic development. He noted that his work could one day be used by scientists to develop new treatments for miscarriage and infertility. Additionally, Lanner also hopes to open new ways to use embryonic stem cells to treat many diseases.

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"If we can understand how these early cells are regulated in the actual embryo, this knowledge will help us in the future to treat patients with diabetes, or Parkinson, or different types of blindness and other diseases," explained Lanner, a developmental biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, in an exclusive interview with National Public Radio. "That's another exciting area of research."

For his experiments, Lanner and his team injected a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 into carefully thawed five human embryos donated by couples who had gone through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

However, one of the embryos did not survive the cooling and thawing process, while another one was severely damaged while being injected. The remaining three embryos, which were two-day old when they were injected, survived in good shape, with one of them dividing immediately after being injected.

Even after experimenting with a dozen of healthy human embryos, Lanner remains unsure how his experiment is going, but he is quite confident that he will succeed in modifying individual genes in the embryos to determine their function.

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