August 2, 2017

Researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have developed a new form of gene correction that will prevent the transmission of genetic disorders from mother to child, which may lead to a “revolutionary way” to treat inherited diseases. Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his 15-person lab are using a gene-editing technique that involves spindle transfer from the affected egg to the donor egg to address these heritable conditions.

The gene-editing technique described in this study, employed together with in vitro fertilization or IVF, could provide a new avenue for people with a known heritable disease-causing genetic mutation to eliminate the risk of passing the disease to their children. It could also increase the success of IVF by increasing the number of healthy embryos.

Dr. Mitalipov concedes his stem cell research has been controversial for some people, while many others see the human health benefits. “We produce stem cells using eggs. That’s always a controversial issue — where are you going to get eggs?” he said. “Even though egg donation to the reproductive field is a pretty standard procedure, [use of these eggs to generate] stem cells [has] always been questioned.”

While admitting there are concerns about how to ensure there’s no misuse of this scientific technology, “since these families clearly can benefit, I think it’s ethical we allow it,” Dr. Mitalipov said. “At the same time, if there are concerns that a clinic can use it for an unintended use, it can be regulated.”

However, he doesn’t think the technology will be misused. “There is no other nonmedical use for this technology,” he said. “It’s all toward the defective mitochondria and correcting it. In the U.K., they decided it case by case, at least at the beginning. Each family and IVF clinic has to submit an application. Something like that can be done here as well.”

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