First Gene-Edited Babies Prompt Official Investigation in China

27 November, 2018, 06:13 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • First-gene edited babies are here

Julian Savulescu, a medical ethics expert at Britain's University of Oxford, agreed.

"Grossly premature and deeply unethical", is how noted USA bioethicist Henry Greely of Stanford University characterized the claim.

By editing the DNA of human embryos, scientists change not just the genes in a single person, but all their potential offspring - in effect, altering the human species.

Multiple organisations have denied involvement in Prof He's work, as many other scientists have criticised him for carrying out "monstrous" experiments on healthy embryos.

He, a professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claims that his lab had been editing embryos' genetic codes for seven couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization. His work has resulted in one pregnancy so far. He said he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection of HIV, the virus responsible for the disease AIDS.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui made the claim in interviews with the Associated Press.

His work has not yet been independently confirmed or reviewed by other scientists, but if proven true, it crosses into a new frontier of medicine and ethics.

Doudna, who helped to organize the Hong Kong conference, told The Associated Press that He met with her Monday and that he will be allowed to address the conference on Wednesday. "Society will decide what to do next", he said.

He's video then went online, prompting a heated debate among the scientific community, including from experts who cast doubt over the claimed breakthrough, and others who decried it as a modern form of eugenics. "It's just nearly surreal", said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who said he has seen some of the data behind the experiment. Annas also asserted that He is "unqualified as a physicist to deal with patients, touch them, or get consent from them for a medical procedure (we don't know about the physicians involved, but on the surface, they seem to have acted unethically as well)".

George Church, from Harvard, however, defended this research.

"Although I appreciate the global threat posed by HIV, at this stage, the risks of editing embryos to knock out CCR5 seem to outweigh the potential benefits", Zhang said in a statement.

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"I think this is justifiable", Church said of that goal.

HIV, according to the WHO's Global Health Observatory Data, is a global epidemic where more than 70 million people have been infected and about 35 million people have died.

"This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit".

The scientist has altered DNA with a powerful new tool which is capable of rewriting the blueprint of life.

In addition, more than 100 scientists signed a petition for greater oversight on gene editing experiments in light of Jiankui's claim and city officials where the lab is located have also launched a medical and ethics investigation. He has even applied for patents for some of his methods as a result of his study. All of the men in the Chinese boffin's experiment had HIV and the women did not.

Joyce Harper, a professor in genetics and human embryology at the Institute for Women's Health at University College London, described the alleged research "premature, risky and irresponsible", calling for public debate and legislation.

After the couples produced embryos through IVF, he used CRISPR to cut the CCR5 gene, disabling it in the hopes of making the embryos less vulnerable to HIV infection.

First, He washed the sperm which separated it from the semen, where the HIV virus can be found.

Subsequently, a single sperm was put into a single egg in order to create an embryo. It is at this point that the gene editing was carried out.

The couples were offered the choice to use edited or unedited embryos in the pregnancy attempts that followed. This sort of gene editing is banned in the US, though Deem said he worked with He on the project in China.

Tests suggest that one twin had both copies of the intended gene altered and the other twin had just one altered, with no evidence of harm to other genes, He said. Such off-target mutations could obviously cause other problems.


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