This study is considered a first, marking the first time human embryos were used in the gene editing process. And while preliminary results have revealed some errors, the scientists involved believe that their techniques can potentially wipe out inherited diseases before the fact, by means of removing defective genes and replacing them with new ones. However, several experts and critics have raised objections regarding the procedure, mainly over the ethical and moral concerns of such a process.
As well-known journals Nature and Science refused to publish the study’s results on ethical grounds, the Sun Yat-sen University scientists posted their findings on the less-heralded Protein and Cell journal. The researchers gathered defective human embryos incapable of resulting in live births, collecting them from fertility clinics. They then attempted to replace a gene said to be behind a potentially fatal blood disorder, though most of these attempts had turned out to be unsuccessful.
Critics have spoken out against the procedure, claiming that there is a possibility it can be used for reasons other than preventing inherited diseases like the aforementioned blood disorder. According to Dr. Yalda Jamshidi of St. George’s University Hospital, this would typically be an “ideal solution,” as researchers have been working on such procedures for years. “However, altering genes in human embryos can have unpredictable effects on future generations,” Jamshidi added.
Aside from the ethical and moral debate sparked by the study, some have pointed out the legal ramifications of such a procedure. Crick Institute Professor Robin Lovell Badge was quoted as saying that the procedure may become legal “after careful consideration” by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. He did add, however, that it would be illegal to implant the edited embryos into a female in order for it to develop.