In a bold dismissal of the widespread predilection—and laws in many countries—that no one should change the genome of a mortal embryo and transfer it to a woman, Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov last week made it public about his plans on becoming the second researcher to cross this non-strayed path. “We can’t stop development with information on paper,” Rebrikov stated to popular tech site ScienceInsider recently when asked about global efforts to prevent such examination.
Rebrikov, who works at the Kulakov National Medical Research Center in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology in Moscow, does not have the Russian Government’s approval to the research yet. But, as Nature first announced he would like to practice the genome modifier CRISPR to alter the CCR5 gene cell in embryos so they would be extremely immune to contagion with HIV.
This strategy was adopted by the Chinese researcher He Jiankui who tried the same that led to the birth of twin girls. This was condemned globally. Jiankui, who did not openly address his trial until news reports disclosed aspects of it in November. This launched an international initiative to step up research of human embryo studies that constitute heritable DNA changes. Interests about this so-called “germline editing” have started some prominent scientists to summon for an end.
Rebrikov, whose is employed in a IVF clinic, does not plan to renew his experiment—he thinks its purpose was flawed. In his study, the Chinese scientist chose couples attempting IVF in which the male companion was HIV+ve. Although this by itself does not profess much risk for an IVF baby—the virus can be removed from the sperm before shooting it into an egg. He said he wanted to vaccinate the children “genetically” against any future risks of contamination with the AIDS disease so they would not experience the disgrace and differentiation seen by their HIV-infected fathers.
CCR5 editing is just a proof of concept. If I can’t find an HIV-infected woman who doesn’t respond to ARV therapy and wants to be pregnant, I’ll look for different cases where both parents have a homozygous mutation for some genetic disease, like dwarfism, deafness, or blindness. We need models to start to use CRISPR embryo editing in clinical practice. I think we need several, 50, maybe 100 cases of using this technology, and after that we can try to use it more broadly. For example, we can see in a family that all babies will be born with a high risk of cancer. Now, when genome editing is just starting, it’s dangerous and not proven so we can’t use it with them. But in the near future, I think we can say to these parents, “Would you like to make some changes in the genome of your babies to reduce their risk of cancer?” And not only cancer, but different diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so on.