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CRISPR Work Ahead

While researchers are excited about the potential of gene-editing tool CRISPR and how it could be used to treat or prevent disease, they tell CBS News' 60 Minutes that more work needs to be done.

"There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes," MIT's Feng Zhang tells 60 Minutes. "The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them."

Researchers across the world are applying CRISPR-based tools to develop, for example, mosquitos that can't transmit malaria, rice that's drought resistant, and to treat diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, it says. The tool could also be used to prevent diseases from even occurring, 60 Minutes says.

But Zhang adds that the ramifications of making gene alterations aren't yet known. For instance, he says that altering the PCSK9 gene could reduce people's cardiovascular disease risk, but doing so could increase their diabetes risk. More work, he says, needs to be done to ensure CRISPR is safe and efficient.

"I don't think we're close to ready to use it to go edit the human population," the Broad Institute's Eric Lander says. "I think we've gotta use it for medicine for a while. I think those are the urgent questions. That's what people want right now, is they want cures for disease. "