Opinion: Using CRISPR to edit eggs, sperm, or embryos does not save lives

The real value of using CRISPR on eggs, sperm, or embryos accrues not to the individual who is created but to the people who choose to use it to create…
IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is an existing alternative to CRISPR for preventing the transmission of genetic disease. Source: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The startling announcement by He Jiankui almost one year ago that he had created the first genetically modified human beings unleashed a torrent of criticism. It also brought to the surface common misunderstandings — even among scientists and ethicists — that reproductive uses of this genome-modifying tool have therapeutic value, will treat people with genetic disorders, will save lives, and will eradicate disease. None of those are true.

The twin girls that He helped create are publicly known as Lulu and Nana. Their father is HIV-positive. The scientist said he used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to disable a gene called CCR5 to mimic a naturally occurring gene deletion that appears to confer immunity against HIV.

A major criticism by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine recommending that, once the technology is ready and safe, genetic modification of embryos could be allowed when there is a “serious disease or condition” to be addressed and no “reasonable alternatives” exist.

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