A Russian biologist is planning to help couples with deafness due to heritable mutations in their GJB2 gene by creating CRISPR babies that can hear from their embryos.
Denis Rebrikov in June told Nature he planned CRISPR editing the human embryo and equally bring them to term. Until now, only He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, has been able to produce CRISPR babies. The scientist claimed that the edits would prevent the babies from inheriting HIV from their fathers.
Rebrikov told New Scientist last week Thursday that he has five different couples from Russia that are eager to let him gene-edit their embryos to prevent their offspring from inheriting deaf-causing mutations in their GJB2 gene. The Russian biologist told New Scientist that the couples interested in his CRISPR editing study are all deaf due to mutations in their GJB2 gene. According to him, children produced from two persons (a man and a woman) with those mutations are guaranteed to be deaf.
CRISPR Babies: A New Chapter in Gene Editing
CRISPR editing a copy of the GJB2 gene in a fertilized embryo would allow the parents to biologically give birth to a child that is not deaf, Rebrikov said.
Using CRISPR on human embryo for Rebrikov’s cause could be potentially justifiable than the previous attempts to stop CRISPR babies from inheriting their fathers’ HIV. That is if the Russian biologist gets a go-ahead order from the nation to carry out the study. Of course, only Russian authorities can stop him.
The situation is clear and understandable to everyone, he told New Scientist. “Without gene mutation editing, each new baby for the couples will be deaf.”
Rebrikov plans to consult the Russian government in a few weeks from now to ask permission before starting the controversial CRISPR gene-editing experiment. That’s unlike He, who performed his experiment without permission from the Chinese authorities.
The use of CRISPR to prevent disability might be more medically justifiable than preventing HIV, but that doesn’t make the process of ethically right. CRISPR is still highly controversial.
Well, some people would not accept that deafness is a condition that should be treated. Their idea about deafness is that it’s not a disability, but a culture we should embrace. Some also see the use of medical devices or surgeries to help individuals with deafness in some ways to hear as a form of genocide against the group.
Most of the people with deafness, including some whose deaf conditions are beyond medical interventions still live normal lives and healthily without a need to hear. Some scientists are suggesting that CRISPR research should not be used on humans at this early stage unless it’s going to save lives.
The first trials on human embryo or infants should be on those “with nothing to lose, with fatal conditions” Bioethicist Julian Savulescu of the University of Oxford told New Scientist. We shouldn’t start the experiment with “an embryo which stands to lead a pretty normal life.”