Russian researchers are seeking approval for the use of CRISPR, a powerful gene-editing tool, to come up with CRISPR-edited human embryos and create genetically-improved babies.
The Russians plan comes a few months after another researcher, in this case from China, came into the limelight in November 2018 when he announced that his team used the tool to edit two human embryos, a process which led to the birth of twin girls which were deemed to be the first genetically-edited human beings.
Chinese doctor was the first to create genetically-edited babies using CRISPR
The Chinese researcher presented the results during the Second International Summit on Human Editing. The announcement led to fiery criticism from his peers, and the researchers lost his post at the Southern University of Science and Technology located in Shenzhen, China. Government officials decided to open an investigation.
The researchers used CRISPR to remove CCR5, a gene which allows HIV to enter cells. HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers were involved in the project, which involved the implantation of modified embryos. When the first wave of criticism appeared, the researcher justified his actions by claiming that the removal of CCR5 will prevent the transmission of the virus to the fetus.
Several researchers disputed this claim, with one of the nothing that the targeting of CCR5 in human embryos is controversial when ethics are taken into account. However, it is considerably easier to find willing subjects for such experiments instead of aiming to cure rare genetic afflictions.
Russians now plan to create CRISPR-edited human embryos
Denis Rebrikov, the Russian researcher, has announced that he will seek approval from the Russian health ministry and other government agencies before he will start to work on his project. Rebrikov claims that the will use a modified version of the CRISPR editing technique, which is highly efficient but prone to make unintended modifications.
The gene-editing of human embryos is a hot topic among the scientific community, and a global moratorium is championed by some of the most well-known CRISPR experts and the supports of ethics. The technology is not ready for such uses, and several years are needed until an appropriate stage will be reached.