China defends creating world's first genetically edited babies

29 November, 2018, 11:40 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • He Jiankui

But while many scientists have been quick to condemn He's experiment, some leaders began to give cautionary warnings about foreclosing a promising field of biomedical research. This is also controversial as scientists say that He should have conducted this research - and many other studies - before moving on to living babies.

Talking about the twin girls, the Stanford University-educated scientist added: "The girls are safe and healthy as any other babies". "I think there has been a failure of self regulation by the scientific community because of a lack of transparency", Baltimore said.

The researcher, He Jiankui (HEH JEE-ahn-qway) of Shenzhen, revealed the possible pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong.

'I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example, ' he told the AP. "If you had involved the Chinese authorities, they might have said you can't do it". This is probably not a hoax or a stunt like the famous Raëlian cult fake-out of 2002, in which a group of UFO believers claimed to have successfully cloned a human.

In 2017, the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine said lab-only research to learn how to alter embryos is ethical - but said it's not ready for pregnancies yet. "Sometime we feel quite anxious", said Xu.

Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal, was one of many experts to question He's work.

Shortly after his talk, He cancelled a planned appearance in a Thursday session on embryo gene editing, according to the Royal Society, one of the conference organizers. He aimed to mimic a natural mutation which confers resistance to HIV. But in response to a follow-up question, He acknowledged that it was a chemical pregnancy, a term that can apply to an early-stage miscarriage. "[An] HIV vaccine is not available", he said. And in both embryos, there was evidence of mosaicism - some cells carrying the edited gene, and others carrying the original. Now, He is defending his work even as another scientist, this time in the USA, comes under investigation for his role in the research. "I understand that my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology, and I'm willing to take the criticism for them". "How could you do that?" Any pregnancy attempt would require permission from the Food and Drug Administration, which is now prohibited by Congress from even reviewing such a request - a de facto ban.

Leading scientists said there are now even more reasons to worry, and more questions than answers, after He's talk.

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The disclosure this week of He's research - carried out in southern China mostly under a shroud of secrecy - has sparked urgent debate about the ethics of gene-editing and raised the prospect of a future in which parents produce "designer babies" with selectively improved traits such as intelligence or strength.

Sequencing the genes to look for the changes in CCR5 isn't so complicated, Long said. "The most likely first legitimate use of gene edited embryos would be to prevent serious genetic disorders for which there are no alternatives", Daley says. Nor did he say when the results might be published.

In Hong Kong, He presented the data Musunuru described reading in the unpublished manuscript, including the possible off-target effect in the early embryo, which He claimed was not present in the child after birth. "We've only found out about it after it's happened and the children are born". He ended by saying that he would've done the same gene-editing to a baby of his own.

"The words "profound downstream consequences" don't do it justice", Topol said.

The DNA of twin girls was altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life, Dr He says. He said he would provide insurance for the children created through the project.

A visual representation of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. Throughout the book, readers get a sense that the characters and the world they inhabit aren't quite real.

He quickly moved to defend what he did with the twin girls.


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