Scientists say they've taken the first major step toward potentially preventing more than 10,000 inheritable conditions—including breast cancer, Huntington's disease, and cystic fibrosis—through genetic engineering, the New York Times reports. According to a study published Wednesday in Nature, scientists successfully edited genes in dozens of human embryos to remove a mutation that causes a potentially fatal heart condition. If those embryos were allowed to grow into babies, the individuals would not have the condition—which affects an estimated one in 500 people—and would not pass it along to their children. A professor of genetics says this process "could certainly help families who have been blighted by a horrible genetic disease."
Study co-author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte tells CNN this is the first study in the world to show gene editing can be both safe and accurate in fixing disease-causing mutations. An important breakthrough: Scientists were able to edit the mutation that causes the heart condition without causing mutations in other cells. And while a lot more testing will be required before the process is ready for clinical use, it will certainly bring up a host of ethical questions regarding the potential for designer babies before then. For example, National Geographic quotes the director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University as saying: “The scientists are out of control. They want to control nature, but they can't control themselves.” (Read more genetic engineering stories.)