Scientists first managed to modify the genes of a human embryo

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This is the first study to demonstrate that a gene-editing technique can be used in human embryos to convert mutant genes back to their normal version, the researchers said.

In their new paper, a consortium of scientists in California, Oregon and Asia detailed using the genome-editing technique CRISPR to fix DNA that causes a common genetic heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The researchers concentrated on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) a heart muscle disease that affects about 1 in 500 people and can result in sudden death. Furthermore, by cutting out a gene that caused a heart defect, the disease (called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) would theoretically also be prevented from being passed down from generation to generation.

It is illegal in the United Kingdom to edit human embryos for anything other than research that is appropriately justified and supported by rigorous scientific and ethical review.

"We need much more basic studies like this to answer the question of whether this is a feasible approach", said Salk staff scientist Jun Wu, who contributed to the study along with Salk researchers Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and Keiichiro Suzuki.

The human embryos used in the research were created using eggs collected from healthy women and sperm from a man carrying a DNA error.

Three previous attempts at using CRISPR to create a genetically modified human embryos were carried out in China but produced mixed results.

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Researchers have erased a genetic glitch that causes heart defects in dozens of human embryos with surprising success, fixing the problem 72% of the time. The defective gene was cut out using CRISPR around the time the sperm was injected into the eggs.

Led by Shoukrat Mitalipov, the researchers stressed that though they had found no evidence of off-target genetic changes, it did not necessarily mean they did not exist.

Parents could use the scientific advancement to spare their children from a lifelong debilitating disease. The Salk scientists contributed by developing the gene editing strategy, initially testing it in stem cells derived from the patient's skin cells.

As the authors themselves noted, many couples use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to screen embryos at fertility clinics, allowing only healthy ones to be implanted. In the 1990s he co-developed zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), one of the first gene editing technologies, establishing a foundation for modern technologies including CRISPR. It is directed to a specific location in the DNA and performs a cut-and-paste function, not unlike word-processing software. IBS researchers provided CRISPR-Cas9 and analyzed the DNA of the embryos to make sure that the procedure worked correctly. Scientists are also concerned about the unregulated genetic engineering may lead to a new form of eugenics- improving a baby by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.

"Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics and Governance" was published by the National Academy of Science, a publication that two years to produce.

"The question that will be most debated is whether the same principle of modifying the genes of an embryo in vitro is acceptable", analyzed by an independent expert, professor Darren Griffin (University of Kent), quoted by the Science Media Centre. Food and Drug Administration is prohibited from considering any clinical trials involving genetic modifications that may be inherited.

In fact, Mitalipov said the research should offer critics some reassurance: If embryos prefer self-repair, it would be extremely hard to add traits for "designer babies" rather than just eliminate disease.