Professor Darren Griffin comments on human embryo gene-editing

Darren Griffin, Professor of Genetics at the School of Biosciences, was one of a number of leading scientists to comment on the announcement that genetic mutation implicated in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a common heritable heart condition – has been corrected in preimplantation human embryos using the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technique.

Professor Darren Griffin

Gene editing

Professor Griffin’s comments were picked up by UK and international media. He also gave interviews to a number of BBC programmes (Today Programme, Vanesse Feltz, Nicky Campbell), several of which were re-broadcast across the BBC network, including BBC BrazilProfessor Darren Griffin Media Mentions

Working with the Science Media Centre, Professor Griffin said:

‘Given the increasing success with CRISPR-Cas9, in many ways a report like this was inevitable.  The work appears to be convincing, scientifically sound and performed with great thoroughness.  It is nonetheless very challenging with a number of issues to consider.

‘The first is clinical need.  Presumably the approach is mostly useful when preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) indicates there are no embryos available for transfer.  This is unlikely to be a large number.

‘The second is safety.  As the authors clearly point out, the safety of the approach (i.e. whether there are any unintended consequences to the health of the embryo and the subsequent baby) is of paramount concern.

‘The third is practicality.  If the patients are to have a PGD to identify the embryos in need of ‘correction’, then the CRISPR-Cas9 treatment, then a second PGD to establish whether the procedure has worked, then one wonders whether the whole procedure would gain in popularity, even if it was licensed.

‘Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all.  This is not a straightforward question, the academic disciplines of law, social policy, psychology and philosophy may all become involved.  Equally the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play.’

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