Swedish scientist begins gene-editing experiments on human embryos

Xavier Symons
September 24, 2016
Reproduced with Permission

A Swedish scientist has begun what are believed to be the first gene-editing experiments on healthy human embryos.

Developmental biologist Fredrick Lanner from the Karolinska Institute is using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to identify the function of specific genes in the human genome, and to learn more about the causes of infertility and miscarriages.

Lanner, who also hopes to gain insight into the use of embryonic stem cells to fight disease, says that his experiments are both necessary and morally permissible; he intends to experiment on healthy embryos until they reach 14 days of development. "I think it's wise to be allowed to do fundamental research so we can gain more information about this technology and potentially use it in the future".

Lanner told NPR that his research will not be used to study the potential for so-called "designer babies". "I really, of course, stand against any sort of thoughts that one should use this to design designer babies or enhance for aesthetic purposes."

Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, is concerned that embryonic gene-editing research will be a precursor to the production of genetically modified human beings.

"The production of genetically modified human embryos is actually quite dangerous…It's a step toward attempts to produce genetically modified human beings. This would be reason for grave concern."