Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov plans to implant the gene-edited embryos into HIV-positive mothers.
Despite the general outcry against the experiment conducted by Chinese researcher Jiankui He involving the implantation in women of embryos with the genetic deletions of CCR5 using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene-editing technology, Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov has informed the publication Nature that he plans to take He’s work even further.
As the head of a genome-editing laboratory at Russia’s largest fertility clinic, Rebrikov indicated that implanting gene-edited embryos in HIV-positive mothers that have not responded to standard treatment will be more ethically justifiable. Jiankui He edited embryos from healthy mothers and HIV-positive fathers. While the CCR5 gene deletion blocks one avenue for entry of HIV into cells, it recently has been linked with a higher risk of premature death and a greater susceptibility to the West Nile virus and serious complications from influenza infections.
Because the mothers in Rebrikov’s study have a higher risk of transmitting HIV to their babies, Rebrikov believes gene editing of the embryos is an acceptable therapeutic approach.
Experts in CRISPR technology still generally disagree, arguing that it is not sufficiently developed for application to human embryos. Controlling the gene-editing steps can be difficult, which can lead to unknown consequences.
Russia is in the process of establishing guidelines regarding the use of gene-editing in embryos in a clinical setting. The rules are expected to be in place within nine months, according to Rebrikov. He is applying for approval from three different agencies and expects to hear back from them any time from within the next month to two years from now.