Over the years, the debates over using animals for lab-testing has been an issue, ever since humans being used as test-subjects has been abolished after World War II and further on when strict laws were made against it in the early 80’s.
Man has often also been seen as someone who should not play with the sanctity of the human body, be it with life, modifying genes or DNA and even the ever-so-debatable cloning projects.
Due to the nature of such things and the laws set in place, it is possible that scientists are still attempting this in secret unbeknownst to the rest of us.
Likewise, a Swedish scientist and biologist, who works at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Fredrik Lanner, has admitted to trying to modify genes from good human embryos. There have also been cases where some Chinese researchers were modifying the DNA of incapacitated human embryos (ones that could not develop further into a baby) and were attempting to make them HIV resistant.1
But Fredrik has openly said that he is using human embryos that can potentially develop into a healthy baby. In fact, he allowed a reporter of the National Public Radio (NPR) to watch his colleagues and himself, use these healthy human embryos, that were left behind by in vitro fertilization (IVF) and infusing them with CRISPR or Cas9 components, which is a potent gene-cutting chemical, which has enabled the field of genetics to discover the gene’s incredible potential.
Something like cutting out those chain of paper flowers in art class, all these scientists did was is cut out some parts of the genetic code and put new ones in their place with absolute precision. This method allows them to enhance the human genome with additional abilities or traits, such as inducing a cure or immunity to some diseases, however, it is all still work-in-progress.
Putting the controversial bit aside, Fredrik said that this could help discover more solutions for infertility treatments, better understand stem cells and even turn them into any cell required by the human body. This could be even inducing the embryo with certain disorders, usually occurring when its developing, and seeing how to combat them within the cell itself, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s or autism, etc.
However, some of the worries that are plaguing the minds of those who are seeing this are that modifying these embryos could cause some deformations or complications further on when the baby has developed fully. To reassure us, Fredrik and his team say they would make sure the embryos do not develop for more than 2 weeks.
A conference occurred in Washington recently with representatives from all over the world, to reaffirm that editing viable human DNA and embryos is illegal.
An exception, however, was given to one such institute called the Francis Crick Institute in UK, making them a world’s first. They were permitted to use embryos for experimentation, as long as its development was stopped within a week after fertilization.
Despite this, there are still a handful of scientists who want to be given the leeway to work with healthy human embryos to see if such gene-modifying experiments could open an avenue for new medical breakthroughs.
Be it saving a child from suffering a dire condition for life, fixing defects in embryos before fertilization and birth. However, if a little genome-cutting error is made, it could also result in creating a whole new man-made disease or disorder.
Moreover, in the grand-scheme of things, it does question as to whether we are playing God and customizing babies based on our idea of perfect characteristics without letting nature do its part or letting the life fight and survive with its own mettle and evolution.
What’s more is if the wrong hands get this technology, it could even lead them to creating babies that are aesthetically pleasing with desired ‘assets’ like the next Kim Kardashian. This further makes us forget that this is a human life, not a toy to play with.
Although it should not be downplayed on either side of the argument, the concerns are valid, just as much as the possibilities to explore this, remain irrefutably endless, for good and bad.