Aiming to Alter the Gene that Causes Deafness, Russian Scientist Modifies Genes in Human Eggs

A Russian scientist, Dennis Rebrikov is now editing eggs that women that have hearing abilities donated to the experiment so that he can alter the gene that causes deafness so as to allow couples with no hearing abilities to have children that will not be affected by the genetic mutation which affects hearing abilities.

Previously, it has been erroneously reported that Denis Rebrikov is mutating eggs to cause deafness. Rebrikov also said in June 2019 that he has the intention to edit genes to make babies resistant to HIV. There has also been a report in a magazine that the scientist is getting eggs from a deaf couple so has to create a baby that has edited genes but according to an e-mail sent to Nature, a scientific journal from the Russian scientist, he claims that the eggs collected are from women that have hearing abilities and do not have the genetic mutation that damages hearing abilities. According to him, the objective of the research is to know more about ‘’off-target’’ mutations that can be damaging which is the main problem known with the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to edit genes in embryos. CRISPR-Cas9 is a unique type of genome editing that allows for the removal, addition or alteration of DNA sequence.

Rebrikov has revealed that he has plans to apply for the permission to infuse embryos that are genetically edited into women later and that he has no plans to make those kinds of babies now. He also states that the results of his egg projects will soon be published. He has said that he has the approval of the local review board but that he will not proceed until he gets approval from the Russia Federation’s Ministry of Health, he said ‘’I will definitely not transfer an edited embryo without the permission of the regulator’’. Though the ministry has put forward a release a couple of weeks back that producing babies with edited genes is too early and the scientist has confirmed that ‘’it is hard to predict’’ when he will be able to get permission but it will surely be after all the safety checks have been observed and the project passed.

One of the couples, the ones that agreed to the procedures have been reported not to sign the consent form and that they declined participating in an experiment that made a baby with edited genes citing personal rationales but Rebrikov said this setback is only temporary and said that the woman that has donated her eggs just took a month ‘’pause’’ while getting her cochlear implants.

However, some scientists are doubtful about the real impact of the experiments stating that inability to hear is not a deadly or fatal disease. Jennifer Doudna who is a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and also a pioneer of the CRISPR gene-editing technology said ‘’The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm’’. Another scientist, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute, London and also a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) committee, Robin Lovell-Badge has said that the Russian scientist, Rebrikov should wait until there is a more clearer structure that has been designed and put in place and that this will take a while, ‘’this is no simple matter, and it is ridiculous to think that we can come up with global solutions to regulation in a very complex scientific and potentially clinical area in a few months’’. Rebrikov has expressed the desire to follow international regulations when gene editing gets to the clinic but has also stated that there are no existing regulations yet.

The project involves how CRISPR can be used to fix the gene called GJB2 that is linked to deafness. When a person has two copies of GJB2 that has been mutated, such a person cannot hear properly without help such as cochlear implants or hearing aids. A deaf couple accepted to start the procedures and the scientist is already talking with four other couples that the two parents have two GJB2 genes that are mutated, the scientist said the aim is to assist these kinds of couples to have a child that will not have any problem with hearing abilities.

 

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