A team of top researchers at Sun Yat-sen University, in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, have hit the headlines with their recent breakthrough, as they perform chemical surgery on lab-created embryos.
Technically known as base editing, this breathtaking procedure has corrected a single fault in the embryo DNA.
Base editing is a tricky technique used to alter the four main components of our genetic makeup, known as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Referred to as A, C, G and T, these DNA parts contain all of the instructions involved in the creation and functioning of the human body.
In this instance, the deadly blood disorder beta-thalassemia was successfully removed from the embryos.
Beta-thalassemia is caused by a point mutation, which is where one specific component of DNA is faulty. The Chinese research team carefully located the genetic fault and managed to rectify the error, resulting in the elimination of beta-thalassemia.
This study was made possible by using tissue extracted from a patient suffering from the beta-thalassemia disease, along with human embryos obtained through cloning. The embryos were purely created for the purpose of research and were not implanted after the experiment.
It is hoped this world first research experiment technique will one day be used to tackle the disabling, and often life-threatening, genetic inherited diseases, making them a thing of the past.
However, issues surrounding the ethics of such studies are controversial, with society often divided on their opinions. With ongoing debate and the need for careful monitoring, guidelines and regulations, the use of clinical base editing is unlikely in the near future.
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