Scientists have managed to edit genes in human embryos to eliminate the mutation that causes the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a study published Wednesday reports. It is the first time researchers have successfully edited genes so that all the cells were mutation-free and no extra mutations were formed.
"It feels a bit like a 'one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind' moment," biochemist Jennifer Doudna told The New York Times in an email.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects around 1 in 500 people, and can lead to sudden heart failure. Still, the research reported Wednesday is a long way from clinical trials, which would be illegal under current law. Supporters of gene editing point to the fact that the breakthrough reported Wednesday could one day be used to address more than 10,000 genetic conditions, including breast and ovarian cancer, sickle cell anemia, or early-onset Alzheimer's.
The study is due to spark social and ethical debates, especially among people who oppose "designer babies." "What our report said was, once the technical hurdles are cleared, then there will be societal issues that have to be considered and discussions that are going to have to happen. Now's the time," said Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Richard Hynes, who was involved in the study. Read more about the research at The New York Times.