(Gènéthique, June 11, 2014) The technique named CRISPR-Cas9 has been causing an “avalanche of publications” in scientific journals for the past eighteen months. It allows “custom-made” modifications to “any gene and any living organism whatsoever”, from the initial stage of the one-celled embryo.
With the help of a “molecular toolkit” it is possible to switch the expression of a gene on or off, or else to change the gene or repair it. In less than two years, several applications of this technique have come to light: “on animal and human cells in tissue cultures, but also in vivo.”
For Professor Alain Fisher, who heads the Institut Imagine [“Imagine Institute”] dedicated to genetic diseases at the Necker Hospital in Paris, the engineering tool CRISPR-Cas9 offers a “very attractive alternative” to the classic approach of gene therapy, because it “is based on the targeted repair of the defective gene”. But before using this technique on human beings, it will be necessary to confirm that is it “completely harmless”.
Among the researchers who developed the technique is a French woman, Emmanuelle Charpentier. She thinks it appropriate to evaluate “the ethical aspects” of this technique, which is having notable success.
[This post is based on a report in Le Monde by Florence Rosier; English translation of the French summary by Michael J. Miller with permission from Gènéthique.]