CRISPR may one day wipe out devastating genetic diseases throughout entire family lines, or even the human race. But to harness its power responsibly, there are plenty of technical challenges we need to master first.
[December 2], Rebecca Lea and Dr. Kathy Niakan at the Human Embryo and Stem Cell Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK, laid out those challenges in a sweeping article in Nature.
Although dubbed an “editor,” CRISPR actually vandalizes the genome, creating breaks in the DNA strands. What we call “gene editing” is the cell’s DNA repair system kicking into high gear, trying to patch up the mess CRISPR left behind. Adult cells that can’t be repaired stop their own life cycle at a checkpoint for the greater good. In embryos, however, cells aren’t nearly as altruistic. … Zooming back to the full picture, it means that the resulting early-stage embryo may keep accumulating damage, until it fails in the mother’s womb.
[S]uccess rates for assisted reproductive technologies are already fairly low. Add in a dose of genetic editing tool that cuts into an already-sensitive genomic landscape, and it becomes incredibly hard to maintain the health of the edited embryo.
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