TechCast's Dr. Amy Fletcher reports that Oregon scientists have for the first time edited the genes of human embryos to cure a common hereditary defect.
First Designed Human Embryo
First Designed Human Embryo
Scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University recently used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to change the DNA of dozens of one-cell human embryos, repairing a genetic mutation that causes a common heart condition that can result in sudden death. It was the first such experiment carried out in the United States and is believed to be the first ever carried out at such an early stage of development. The technique could eventually be used to edit genes related to disorders caused by inherited mutations. (MIT Technology Review, Jul 26, 2017; New York Times, Aug 2, 2017; Nature, Aug 2, 2017)
Authorities are concerned about the moral and ethical issues raised by gene-editing technologies; many religious organizations and some biomedical ethicists oppose editing the human genome. To avoid such obstacles, Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his colleagues discarded the embryos after only a few days of development and never considered implanting them into a surrogate mother. Congress has banned the use of government funds to support such experiments.
This technology offers a powerful new capability to design the DNA code of life at the level of the embryo, where it can be passed down to the organism's descendents. The applications cannot yet be fully known, but already it promises to cure the roughly 5,000 genetic diseases humans inherit, allow parents to choose the traits of their offspring, and enable many new developments in synthetic biology.
As the cost for sequencing genomes continues to plummet and the identification of genes improves, the ability to cure genetic abnormalities should improve dramatically. TechCast forecasts that 15 percent of genetic illnesses are likely to be curable by 2030 +/- 3 years. The field now produces global revenue of roughly US$1 billion/year, and is expected to mature at a saturation level of about US$600 billion.
TechCast's experts also collectively think the first products and services developed by synthetic biology, often using similar techniques, are likely to take off commercially around 2023 +/- 4 years. In time, the global market should reach about US$500 billion.
Owing to ethical concerns, and because moving experimental technologies to clinical practice is always a challenge, they estimate that it will be 2035 or so before 15 percent of parents select genetic traits of their children. However, an unexpected change in attitudes could bring that date closer.
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