A closeup of work in a molecular DNA lab. (University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability / CC 2.0)

A team of U.S. and South Korean scientists have successfully “edited” human DNA, opening the door to future life-saving medical treatments as well as ethical questions.

According to the BBC, the scientists “successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families,” a process that “opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations.”

The BBC continues:

US teams at Oregon Health and Science University and the Salk Institute along with the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea focused on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The disorder is common, affecting one in every 500 people, and can lead to the heart suddenly stopping beating.

It is caused by an error in a single gene (an instruction in the DNA), and anyone carrying it has a 50-50 chance of passing it on to their children.

In the study, described in the journal Nature, the genetic repair happened during conception.

Sperm from a man with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was injected into healthy donated eggs alongside Crispr technology to correct the defect.

It did not work all the time, but 72% of embryos were free from disease-causing mutations. …

However, this is not about to become routine practice.

The biggest question is one of safety, and that can be answered only by far more extensive research.

There are also questions about when it would be worth doing – embryos can already be screened for disease through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

However, there are about 10,000 genetic disorders that are caused by a single mutation and could, in theory, be repaired with the same technology.

The successful procedure also raises moral questions.

“Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all,” Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, told the BBC. “This is not a straightforward question… equally, the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play.”

Read more here.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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Source: Truthdig

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