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With an Editing Goal in Mind

A Russian biologist is moving ahead with gene-editing plans to ultimately alter the genes of embryos of deaf couples, Nature News reports. It adds that the scientist, Denis Rebrikov, is currently using eggs obtained from hearing women for gene-editing studies and has been studying how well CRISPR can fix in body cells the GJB2 deafness gene he plans to target in embryos.

Rebrikov announced in June that he hoped to implant gene-edited embryos into women by the end of the year. At that time, he said he was going to target the same gene, CCR5, that He Jiankui did. He announced last November the birth of twin girls whose genomes he had altered as embryos and that he had targeted their CCR5 genes to make them immune to HIV infection. This revelation by He was met with widespread concern, especially as there are other means of avoiding HIV infections.

In July, Rebrikov said he was switching his focus to edit the GJB2 gene in embryos from deaf couples. But New Scientist noted at the time that this new proposal still might not reach the standard set by the Organizing Committee of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing last year that said gene editing could be justifiable is there is a compelling medical need.

Rebrikov tells Nature News that he won't move ahead with his embryonic gene-editing work without Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation approval. This, Nature News adds, might take time as the ministry recently said it would be premature to develop gene-edited infants.