Harvard University scientists are preparing to experiment with genetically editing sperm cells in hopes of reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease for the children of the future, according to MIT Technology Review.
At the school’s Stem Cell Institute, IVF doctor and scientist Werner Neuhausser says he plans to begin using CRISPR, the gene-editing tool, to change the DNA code inside sperm cells. The objective: to show whether it is possible to create IVF babies with a greatly reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
To be clear, there are no embryos involved—no attempt to make a baby. Not yet. Instead, the researchers are practicing how to change the DNA in sperm collected from Boston IVF, a large national fertility-clinic network. This is still very basic, and unpublished, research.
To alter the DNA inside sperm cells, the team is using a clever new version of CRISPR called base editing, developed by another Harvard scientist, David Liu. Instead of breaking open the double helix, base editing can flip a single genetic letter from, say, G to A. One such molecular tweak is enough to turn a the riskiest version of the ApoE gene into the least risky.