Denis Rebrikov, a Russian molecular biologist, has made public his intention to modify the genome of human embryos and then implant them in women to produce genetically modified babies as soon as he can obtain the necessary permits, according to the journal Nature (see HERE).

Genetic modified human embryos has been stopped by scientific community

When the birth of the first genetically modified babies in China was announced last November, the international scientific community spoke out against these experiments, considering that gene editing techniques are not yet ready for this application, given that the risks exceed the benefits.

Is Russian technique of genetically modified babies better?

The Russian scientist hopes to make the same genetic mutation as produced in the Chinese babies — inactivation of the CCR5 gene — in order to obtain individuals immune to the AIDS virus. However, Rebrikov claims that, “his technique will offer greater benefits, pose fewer risks and be more ethically justifiable and acceptable to the public”.  The differences in the proposed experiment lie in the supposedly better safety of the technique, the details of which have not yet been published. In this case, female patients who do not respond correctly to the available treatments would be selected, while in the case in China, it was the babies’ father who had the disease; this was criticized for the fact that, in such a case, the transmission of the virus was not predictable. In contrast, the Russian scientist proposes to make the modification only in babies for whom the risk of virus transmission during the pregnancy or delivery would be high.

Negative side effects of this technique are still being studied

Nevertheless, doubts about the safety of the technique remain for now. Moreover, inactivation of the CCR5 gene not only fails to guarantee 100% protection against the virus, but may have negative side effects that are still being studied, with their association with decreased life expectancy having been reported recently (see HERE). In addition, genetic modifications in the embryonic state are transmissible from generation to generation, and their applications can have not only therapeutic, but also enhancement aims. These are ethical difficulties that are added to the production of human embryos in vitro, their use in experiments and their destruction (see more about the ethical implications of these experiments).