A scientific journal has withdrawn a controversial paper published last year, suggesting that the gene editing tool CRISPR is a genome wrecking ball.
In the withdrawn study, researchers tried to use CRISPR in mice to correct a mutation causing blindness. They successfully corrected the genetic error, but reported that CRISPR unintentionally produced more than a thousand other – potentially harmful – changes in the animals' DNA.
The results published in Nature Methods did not last long. to raise panic that CRISPR could be too dangerous to use in humans. The findings were unobserved by other investigators and promptly drew criticism from humans, including executives from the big three gene-editing companies CRISPR Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, and Intellia Therapeutics, whose shares tumbled after the study was published.
Today, Nature Methods withdrew the paper and said in an accompanying editorial that "there was not enough data to support the claim of unexpected off-target effects due to CRISPR."
How CRISPR's first clinical trials are In Europe and the US, this is welcome news for companies and patients ready to take advantage of the technology. In Communications of MIT Technology Review Editas and Intellia said they were pleased that the scientific process was able to "correct the records".
CRISPR is a biological system that can be programmed to precisely cut segments of DNA. It has been touted as a permanent cure for genetic diseases and as a more effective cancer treatment. But it remains to ask how safe it is and how well it could actually work in the body.
So-called off-target effects ̵
Earlier this week, the original authors published an article on the bioRxiv pre-print server, saying they could not replicate their previous results.
Of course, the retreat does not mean that CRISPR is completely trouble-free.
"When asked if CRISPR can be safely used [in the body]the stakes are high for many, but they are not higher for anyone than for the people who can use this technology in the future and a thorough answer, "states the Nature Methods editorial .
But other researchers breathe a sigh of relief when they're not celebrating. "My reaction to the retraction: It's time," says Samuel Sternberg, biochemist and CRISPR expert at Columbia University.