NPR Exclusive Report: Stockholm Lab First to Try to Edit DNA of Healthy Human Embryos In an exclusive report, NPR science correspondent Rob Stein details his visit inside the laboratory where the experiments to genetically modify human embryos are being performed.
NPR logo NPR Exclusive Report: Stockholm Lab First to Try to Edit DNA of Healthy Human Embryos

NPR Exclusive Report: Stockholm Lab First to Try to Edit DNA of Healthy Human Embryos

Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his student, Alvaro Plaza Reyes, fill a bucket with liquid nitrogen so they can transfer early human embryos to their lab for experiments aimed at creating genetically modified healthy human embryos. Rob Stein/NPR hide caption

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Rob Stein/NPR

Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his student, Alvaro Plaza Reyes, fill a bucket with liquid nitrogen so they can transfer early human embryos to their lab for experiments aimed at creating genetically modified healthy human embryos.

Rob Stein/NPR

Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his student, Alvaro Plaza Reyes, examine a magnified image of an human embryo they used to attempt to create genetically modified healthy human embryos. Rob Stein/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Rob Stein/NPR

Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his student, Alvaro Plaza Reyes, examine a magnified image of an human embryo they used to attempt to create genetically modified healthy human embryos.

Rob Stein/NPR

NPR is reporting today that a biologist in Sweden has become the first scientist ever to try to alter the DNA in healthy human embryos.

Sept. 22, 2016; Washington, D.C. – In an exclusive report, award-winning health and science correspondent Rob Stein details his visit inside the Stockholm laboratory where the experiments to genetically modify human embryos are being performed.

There, the genetic code of embryos is being changed with new genetic engineering techniques. The embryos are allowed to begin development in a laboratory dish for at least a few days. Researchers are assessing what impact this so-called "gene-editing" is having on the earliest stages of human development.

The initial experiments will not allow the embryos to develop beyond seven days, and as Stein reports, there are no plans to use them to start pregnancies. The research is aimed at gaining insights into basic human embryonic development in to the hopes of finding new ways to treat infertility, and to help scientists development embryonic stem cells into treatments for many diseases.

Someday, if the experiments and similar research succeeds, genetically modified embryos could be implanted into a woman's uterus and allowed to develop normally. Some scientists hope that this method might someday be used to prevent diseases.

But editing the DNA in human embryos is extremely controversial and the subject of an intense international debate. The technique raises fears it could someday be used to allow parents to choose traits like skin, hair or eye color — or a range of other abilities, including strength or intellect.

As one critic tells Stein: "If we're going to be producing genetically modified babies, we are all too likely to find ourselves in a world where those babies are perceived to be biologically superior. And then we're in a world of genetic haves- and have-nots. That could lead to all sorts of social disasters."

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