Scientists successfully 'edit' embryo genes to prevent inherited disease

Researchers warn that we "must continue to realistically assess the risks as well as the benefits"

Scientists successfully 'edit' embryo genes to prevent inherited disease

Individual blastomeres within the early embryos two days after co-injection. Image: OHSU

Scientists have successfully 'edited' DNA to repair a disease-causing mutation in human embryos - a landmark but potentially controversial development.

Results published in the Nature journal show that researchers were able to 'correct' the mutation for a heart condition "at the earliest stage of embryonic development".

The results mean that the mutation - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - would not be passed on to future generations of children.

The study was carried out by two US institutions - the Salk Institute and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) - in collaboration with Korea’s Institute for Basic Science

The modified embryos were not used to create babies, as such a procedure would be illegal in the US and many other countries.

Salk's Jun Wu - one of the paper's authors - explained: "Our technology successfully repairs the disease-causing gene mutation by taking advantage of a DNA repair response unique to early embryos".

If developed further, similar procedures could be used to potentially cure thousands of other inherited conditions and diseases.

Although the research will be seen as a major development in genetic science, those involved in the study have also highlighted the significant concerns that surround 'gene editing'.

Fears remain that editing processes could lead to unexpected mutations or other unintentional consequences.

Daniel Dorsa, senior vice president for research at OHSU, explained: “This research significantly advances scientific understanding of the procedures that would be necessary to ensure the safety and efficacy of germline gene correction.

“The ethical considerations of moving this technology to clinical trials are complex and deserve significant public engagement before we can answer the broader question of whether it’s in humanity’s interest to alter human genes for future generations," he added.