Last autumn, a Chinese scientist named Dr. He ignited a rhetorical firestorm when he announced he’d used the technology CRISPR to genetically alter human embryos, which were implanted and brought to birth.
The announcement was quickly followed by hand-wringing, outrage and condemnation from scientists around the world, including the same ones in the United States who had created CRISPR in the first place, not to mention let it loose into world with little more ethical guidance than “now, play nice.”
Since then, the only people who seem to have responded with any seriousness to He’s transgression is his now-former employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in China.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., some scientists are following Dr. He’s footsteps, though maybe with a bit more caution.
According to a recent report on National Public Radio, “A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases.”
The report was about Columbia University developmental biologist Dieter Egli, who’s stated goal is “to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations.”
Specifically, Egli is using CRISPR to try and repair a genetic defect that cause blindness. If successful, this could prevent people with the mutant gene from passing it on to their children, and would potentially lead to other breakthroughs, such as the ability to “edit embryonic human DNA to prevent many inheritable diseases, like as Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, or Huntington’s disease.”
Given the promise of alleviating the level of suffering these diseases cause, it’s difficult to fault Egli’s motives. But then again, the same could be said of Dr. He. His goal, as he said, was to prevent the children of HIV-positive parents from inheriting their parents’ condition.
So, given that we really can’t distinguish between the motives of the two projects, why was Dr. He vilified by the entire scientific world while Dr. Egli is not? Why did Dr. He lose his job, while Dr. Egli is enjoying puff-piece interviews by NPR?
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera