Scientists in the UK could begin genetically engineering human embryos as early as March, if the fertility regulator approves plans by researchers at the new Francis Crick Institute in London.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority meets next week to review the application.
A team led by Kathy Niakan plans to study how embryos develop by systematically disabling genes using the new CRISPR technique for gene editing. They plan to use embryos left over from IVF treatment which have been donated to science. After they have been studied, the embryos will be destroyed at 7 days.
She estimates that 80% of the embryos will be useful. “If we start off with good quality zygotes, this is likely to work efficiently,” she said at a press conference. Her project involves 3 or 4 genes, with about 20 to 30 embryos required for each of them, bringing the total of embryos to be destroyed to a possible 120.
When the technique for editing the embryos has been mastered, it is all but inevitable that it will be used to create embryos which are free of genetic diseases. However, some critics warn that this is the high road to designer babies. Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics told The Telegraph (London):
“Allowing the gene editing of embryos opens the road to genetically modifying all the descendants of a person as well as full blown eugenics which was condemned by all civilised societies after the Second World War. It is the very future of the way in which societies accept persons with disabilities that is at play since such gene editing procedures infer that they should not have been brought into existence.
In his State of the Union address President Obama announced a cancer moonshot: an ambitious plan to cure cancer. "The same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease," he said.
Oops. He didn’t say that. Richard Nixon did in his 1971 State of the Union address. “We want to be the first generation that finally wins the war on cancer,” then-Vice President Al Gore said in 1998. “For the first time, the enemy is outmatched.”
It’s not just the politicians who know how to cure cancer. Scientists make big promises as well. In 2005 the Director at the National Cancer Institute, Andrew von Eschenbach, said “Our plan is to eliminate the suffering and death that result from this process that we understand as cancer, and we are committed to a goal of doing so as early as 2015.”
That commitment was made only ten years ago and cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the United States.
It’s great to feel optimistic, but one has the feeling that promises like these are made to distract voters from other issues. “It’s a bit utopian at this point,” agreed Barrie Bode, a professor at Northern Illinois University and a 20-year cancer researcher, told MarketWatch. “It’s like saying we need to fix the economy once and for all. Right, like that’s going to happen,” he said.
However, if you are looking for a job in cancer research, now looks like a very good time.
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