China: a revolutionary solution to genetic diseases?

University researchers have used DNA editing on embryos to alter mutations causing two different anemias. This method is nothing but a kind of genetic scissors.

The genome editing method used by researchers at Canton Medical University (China) is called CRISPR-Cas9. According to a recent publication in the journal Molecular Genetics and Genomics, scientists have managed to annihilate the genetic mutations that cause two anemias: favism and beta thalassemia. To do this, a protein was injected into several embryos.

This CRIPSPR-Cas9 method makes it possible to « cut » part of the DNA in order to replace the undesirable genes with others or to modify them. Thanks to this process, the researchers were able to correct the G6PD mutation causing favism as well as the HBB mutation relating to beta thalassemia. This modification was made on embryos still at the zygote stage, that is to say at the single cell stage resulting from fertilization (undivided). It should also be known that these zygotes were removed after two days of experiment.

Such manipulation nevertheless raises ethical questions and more or less conflicts with the 1997 Oviedo Convention, ratified by 29 countries and by the Council of Europe. This text “prohibits the creation of human embryos for research purposes, and, in countries where research on in vitro embryos is permitted by law, the law must ensure adequate protection of the embryo. »

China has become a major player in the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 method, on which great hopes are based. Already in 2015, this country had experimented with it twice on human embryos, according to another publication this time published in the journal Nature. At the end of 2016, researchers from Sichuan University had also used CRISPR-Cas9 in an attempt to cure lung cancer in a human being.

According to a publication in the Journal du CNRS, this technique would not only concern genome editing, but would also open up opportunities with regard to the study of the brain.

Sources: La Tribune – CNRS

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