I wrote earlier this week about Medeus clinic in Ukraine seemingly trying to recruit genetics researchers to CRISPR people for trait enhancement.
Aiming for CRISPR people with trait enhancement?
In the recruitment emails they sent out it seemed fairly clear that they were planning to do CRISPR on people somehow via stem cells. They mentioned “gray hair, skin quality, and breast size” as traits they would address.
In both the emails they sent out and in a LinkedIn post they referenced how legal issues had been addressed.
Was it all a misunderstanding? I don’t think so.
However, now after I wrote about Medeus with specific probing questions, they seem to be backtracking.
The person posting the job on LinkedIn was “Марианна Гончар” or Dr. Marianne Gonchar. She is listed on the Medeus website as a “Family Doctor”. You can see a screenshot of the team including Gonchar above.
I emailed Dr. Gonchar with a few questions about their plans with CRISPR. On April 28 I got a reply. Translated from Russian, here is what she wrote:
“Dear Doctor! We are not going to work with people, but only with individual cells of adults in vitro. We were looking for people who are interested in this kind of research. There is no question of selling such a service. But thanks for your interest.”
Given their previous language this seems like they are stepping back. Human cells or people? Again, their recruitment email sounded like the goal was CRISPR people. How do you reverse gray hair, skin color, and breast size in cells in a dish? I suppose you could experiment with CRISPR of human stem cells trying to target trait-associated genes. Then differentiate them?
I emailed Gonchar back again trying to get more information about the idea of CRISPR’ing people and here is what she added:
Doctor, it’s nice that you are interested in our work. Of course, such a goal sounds attractive, but I’m afraid it is not yet feasible. When I wrote to geneticists, I meant working with human cells. Such work in vitro is permitted by law.
I think that these goals may become achievable in the distant future, after all the stages of research and clinical trials, but so far this is out of the question. So we will limit ourselves to working with cells outside the body.
Being vigilant on unauthorized CRISPR use in people
I was hoping to get clarity also on what genes they are thinking to target and such. However, she did not answer questions on that.
Overall, we should keep an eye open for these kinds of operations and what they say. Shining a spotlight on them may lead to more responsible actions and words.
It’s possible that may be what just happened here in this case.