A researcher at Oregon Health and Science University has reportedly become the first in the United States to genetically modify a human embryo, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review.
The report, published Wedesday, says OHSU researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov successfully used the gene editing technology CRISPR to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos.
OPB was not immediately able to independently confirm the breakthrough. But Mitalipov’s research, if it passes peer review, would be a significant step for American scientists.
“To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China,” freelance journalist Steve Connor wrote, outlining the stakes of the research. “Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.”
Successfully altering genes in embryos could theoretically allow scientists to cures diseases, including cancer.
But critics of the CRISPR technology say it could open the door to the world of designer babies — where parents can select for specific traits in their child.
According to the Technology Review, past efforts by U.S. scientists to use CRISPR have been inconsistent and resulted in “editing errors” that gave weight to arguments the technique “would be an unsafe way to create a person.”
For now, federal regulations have banned allowing a genetically-modified human embryo to develop into a baby.