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Microscopic picture of egg cells and embryos

A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases, NPR has learned.

For now, the work is confined to a laboratory. But the research, if successful, would mark another step toward turning CRISPR, a powerful form of gene editing, into a tool for medical treatment.

A Chinese scientist sparked international outrage in November when he announcedthat he had used the same technique to create the world's first gene-edited human babies. He said his goal was to protect them from infection with HIV, a claim that was criticized because there are safe, effective and far less controversial ways of achieving that goal.

In contrast, Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist at Columbia University, says he is conducting his experiments "for research purposes." He wants to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations.

So far, Egli has stopped any modified embryos from developing beyond one day so he can study them.

"Right now we... see more