Chinese claim to have created world’s first genetically modified baby

Chinese claim to have created world’s first genetically modified baby

Chinese claim to have created world’s first genetically modified baby

Professor He Jiankui of Shenzhen, China, made the announcement yesterday in Hong Kong, informing the Associated Press of his apparent achievement and releasing an accompanying video.

But this is not the first time Chinese researchers have experimented with human embryo technology, and last September scientists at Sun Yat-sen University used an adapted version of gene-editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos.

Some scientists at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing, which began on Tuesday in Hong Kong, said they were appalled the scientist had announced his work without following scientific protocols, including publishing his findings in a peer-reviewed journal.

A BBC article describes this news as "dubious", but there's reason to believe the claims could be true. Back in 2016, scientists in China used CRISPR to introduce a beneficial mutation that disables an immune-cell gene called CCR5, conferring immunity by knocking out a critical receptor, or mode of entry, for the HIV virus to infect a cell. He is scheduled to talk about human embryo editing on Wednesday and its "moral principles" on Thursday.

Alarmingly, professor He has decided, quite unilaterally, to move ahead with this research, reportedly implanting the modified embryos into the mother's womb-a step considered by most experts to be highly premature and reckless at this stage.

The university added that He's research utilizing altered DNA was "conducted outside of the campus and was not reported to the University nor the Department". Scientists are still a long ways off from knowing if this procedure is effective and safe.

In this case, there's good reason for doubt.

Research institutions have also distanced themselves from He's work.

The gene editing occurred during IVF, or lab dish fertilization.

Further pregnancy attempts are on hold until the safety of this one is analyzed and experts in the field weigh in, but participants were not told in advance that they might not have a chance to try what they signed up for once a "first" was achieved, He acknowledged. In all, some seven couples participated in the procedure. Although China has no laws explicitly banning gene editing in babies, using the procedure does violate guidelines published by China's health ministry in 2003, and goes against global guidelines agreed to at a summit on the issue in 2015. The technology also carries the risk of affecting other genes unintentionally.

He said in one YouTube video that the editing process, which he called gene surgery, "worked safely as intended" and that the resulting twins were "as healthy as any other babies". If true, many experts say it is a risky leap in science and ethics.

Speaking to the AP, Dr Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert, said in this particular child, "there really was nearly nothing to be gained in terms of protection against HIV and yet you're exposing that child to all the unknown safety risks", adding that the entire enterprise is "unconscionable" and "an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible".

Julian Savulescu, a professor of practical ethics at the University of Oxford, said: "If true, this experiment is monstrous". JK spoke of his study this week in Hong Kong, notes the report, to one organizer of an worldwide conference on gene editing and has also spoken to the AP on what his research has found so far. This is roughly in line with a recent Pew poll in the United States that found 60 percent of Americans support using gene editing on babies to reduce lifetime risk of contracting certain diseases.

If that's not enough, this story gets even murkier.

Qiu said He's university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, had rejected his request to perform the experiment.

The university further notes that He has been on unpaid leave since February 2018-a situation that He tells Reuters he chose himself in order to focus on his research-and calls the work a "serious violation of academic ethics and standards", Reuters reports.

But He's claims have not been verified by outside scientists, and there are questions about how the work was conducted. Deem also has stakes in both of He's companies.

Yalda Jamshidi, senior lecturer in human genetics at St George's, University of London, pointed out that such controversial research is not necessary for preventing HIV.

"This is a practice with the least degree of ethical justifiability and acceptability", Qiu said.

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