One month ago, both Nature and Science refused to publish a paper whose content could radically change biological and medical research. The reason? It crosses the ethical line.
This paper – finally published by Protein & Cell – is the result of the work conducted by a group of Chinese researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. Under the supervision of Junjiu Huang, these scientists reported how they had used innovative techniques to edit human embryos, with the aim of modifying a gene that may cause a fatal blood disorder.
The cells they used for these experiments were non viable embryos taken by fertility clinics. A heated debate raised from a group of scientist who highlighted how those embryos were actually thought for reproduction instead of research. From their point of view, Huang’s research and its future applications represent a danger for human germline. On the other hand, some others replied that since these embryos could not result in a life birth, the paper doesn’t carry to any new ethical implication.
Scientists do not even agree about the Huang’s work success or failure: the technique didn’t work in most of the embryos and, when it worked, it brought unexpected modifications.
It is clear that once these techniques work successfully, it will be a radical progress in the medical cure for those people affected by genetic diseases. But is this enough to run the risks it involves?
Nevertheless, clinical applications are not the only developments of the research: it could yield to important discoveries in basic biology or, for example, in engineering. Today, we cannot assess how many things we might lose if we stop it.