Gene-editing technology CRISPR has revealed a clue in how human embryos begin to develop, possibly reducing the risk of miscarriage in those crucial first few weeks of pregnancy.
CRISPR Cas9 can modify or snip out genetic defects thought to contribute to miscarriage, but until now it wasn’t clear why some embryos continued to form into a fetus and others did not. However, findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, hold genetic clues.
British scientists conducting the study found that a certain human genetic marker called OTC4 played an important role in the formation and development in the early stages of embryonic development. The scientists used CRISPR Cas9 to knock out this important gene in days-old human embryos and found that without it, these embryos ceased to attach or grow properly.
The findings could not only help us better understand why some women suffer more miscarriages than others, but it could also potentially greatly increase the rate of successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
IVF is sometimes the only way a couple can make a baby using their own genes, but even with technological improvements over the years, the rates of success are still poor. Only about 36 percent of IVF cycles result in a viable pregnancy, and a mere 24 percent produce a baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Of course, this is not the first time scientists have tested on human embryos. The practice has sparked a fierce international debate, but earlier this year, U.S. scientists used CRISPR technology to cut out a gene known to cause heart defects in three-day old human embryos.
None of the embryos in that study or this latest one were meant to go on to become human beings and were discarded after the study was finished. However, both studies hint at the potential CRISPR could have in the formation of human life in the future.
It will likely take years before putting this breakthrough into practice on viable embryos meant to develop beyond a few days, and there’s likely still much more research needed, but it does give hope for those who’ve suffered a miscarriage and wanting to ensure they can one day carry a healthy baby to full term.