Scientists Repair Disease Gene in Human Embryos

Altering human heredity? In a first, researchers safely repaired a disease-causing gene in human embryos, targeting a heart defect best known for killing young athletes, a big step toward one day preventing a list of inherited diseases.

In a surprising discovery, a research team led by Oregon Health and & Science University reported Wednesday that embryos can help fix themselves if scientists jump-start the process early enough. It’s laboratory research only, nowhere near ready to be tried in a pregnancy. But it suggests that scientists might alter DNA in a way that protects not just one baby from a disease that runs in the family, but his or her offspring as well. And that raises ethical questions.

“I for one believe, and this paper supports the view, that ultimately gene editing of human embryos can be made safe. Then the question truly becomes, if we can do it, should we do it?” said Dr. George Daley, a stem cell scientist and dean of Harvard Medical School.

He wasn’t involved in the new research and praised it as “quite remarkable.” “This is definitely a leap forward,” agreed developmental geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of Britain’s Francis Crick Institute.

Today, couples seeking to avoid passing on a bad gene sometimes have embryos created in fertility clinics so they can discard those that inherit the disease and attempt pregnancy only with healthy ones, if there are any.