Gene Editing Pioneer Speaks Out Against Genetic Editing Of Babies In China

Gene Editing Pioneer Speaks Out Against Genetic Editing Of Babies In China

Gene Editing Pioneer Speaks Out Against Genetic Editing Of Babies In China

He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology says he used a powerful gene editing tool to alter the DNA of twin girls who were just born this month.

A Chinese scientist claims he successfully created the world's first genetically-edited babies. Nor did he say when the results might be published. "For example, he might have made a mutation in a place he didn't intend to make a mutation".

He said the babies, known as "Lulu" and "Nana" although they are not their real names, were born through regular IVF but using an egg which was specially modified before being inserted into the womb.

The researcher's 40-minute Q&A offered a charged forum for scientists to publicly question a colleague caught in controversy.

Research institutions have also distanced themselves from He's work. "I think there has been a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community because of the lack of transparency", he said.

David Liu, a biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, challenged He on how the girls might benefit from having their DNA altered.

Chinese bioethicist Qiu Renzong was quoted in a tweet by The CRISPR Journal as saying: "There is a convenient and practical method to prevent HIV infection". Medical advances need to be openly discussed with patients, doctors, scientists and society, he wrote.

"The Pandora's Box has been opened, but we may still have a chance to close it before it is irreparable", the statement read. "For this specific case, I feel proud, actually, I feel proudest".

He had studied in the past at Rice and Stanford universities in the United States. "Directly experimenting on human is nothing but insane ... as soon as a living human is produced, no one could predict what kind of impact it will bring, as the modified inheritable substance will inevitably blend into human genome pool", they wrote, adding that the trial is a "huge blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.

The use of the technology immediately raised questions from ethicists since there are other ways to prevent HIV transmission to a fetus, and many think that the first applications of gene editing should be reserved for diseases that are deadly with no treatment options.

In addition, Annas wrote, He focused on "a disease (susceptibility to HIV infection) that virtually no one things should be "cured" by gene editing (since it is both preventable and treatable by current practices)".

He said seven couples are involved in the study; all of the fathers are HIV positive and the mothers are HIV negative. He told the AP that since HIV is "a major and growing public health threat" he finds such experiments "justifiable". Some have called He's work illegal, but while human cloning is illegal in China, gene editing isn't. According to He, his team will track the infants' development for the next 18 years, "with the hope that they will consent as adults for continued monitoring and support".

The Chinese government has ordered an "immediate investigation" into the alleged delivery of the world's first genetically edited babies, as experts worldwide have voiced outrage at such use of the technology. Genome editing is not considered safe, and any genetic modifications - whether beneficial or unintentionally harmful - affect not only the child, but their children and future generations. That may be true, to a point, but it's abundantly clear that many organizations within China maintain similar ethical standards to their counterparts overseas.

He told the AP that he had practiced on mice, monkeys, and human embryos for years before experimenting on humans. An investigation is underway and He has been suspended from his university.

Liu Wei, a Chinese scientist, said that right now there still are too many uncertainties, adding that the technology has the capability of becoming a genetic version of Frankenstein. He insisted he did know enough.

The missing information frustrated many in the audience.

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