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

29 November, 2018, 07:48 | Author: Judith Dennis
  • A technician works in a lab at GeseDNA Technology in Beijing

A Chinese researcher says he used the gene editing technology CRISPR to alter the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month when the babies were embryos. The experiment, which is banned in the USA due to the possibility of these genetic changes affecting future generations, would be the first of its kind ever reported.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, revealed the pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong. In one twin, all of her cells were edited so as to knock out the CCR5 gene; in the other, only some cells were.

"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example", he told the AP.

\While editing the DNA of a human embryo is not now allowed in the USA, in 2017, an global committee of the National Academy of Sciences called for loosening the moratorium and allowing trials of CRISPR in human embryos, under strict oversight, to treat rare genetic diseases that can't be addressed in any other way.

Gene editing expert Kiran Musunuru of the University of Pennsylvania called it an "unconscionable" experiment and "not morally or ethically defensible".

If He's claims are accurate, Annas wrote, then the academic violated "a growing medical-scientific consensus that gene editing not be used on human embryos to create a baby until much more is known about its safety (especially "off target" effects), how to obtain informed consent, and how to monitor any resulting children (and their children) for at least 3 generations (indeed, the Hong Kong conference is the second global one on the science and ethics of Human Genome Editing, designed especially to create an worldwide consensus)".

Au said going from abandoned human embryos to humans involved other steps in between, like live animal models of gene editing.

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

"This is far too premature", said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California.

Fyodor Urnov, associate director of Seattle's Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, expressed "regret and concern over the fact that gene editing-a powerful and useful technique-was put to use in a setting where it was unnecessary", He called it a "hard-to-explain foray into human germ-line genetic engineering that may overshadow in the mind of the public a decade of progress in gene editing of adults and children to treat existing disease".

CRISPR has the ability to remove certain negative gene mutations, but can potentially cause harmful off-target gene mutations as a side effect. "It is possible that scientists are creating genetically altered embryos, implanting them for gestation, and then aborting them to see how things worked out". China bans human cloning, but not specifically gene editing. "We also do not need gene editing to ensure it isn't passed on to offspring", she said.

"Right after sending her husband's sperm into her egg, an embryologist also sent in CRISPR/Cas9 protein and instructions to perform a gene surgery meant to protect the girls from future HIV infection", he said.

"If this was done to avoid HIV infection, there are alternative ways to prevent infection that are already effective", Doudna said, referencing "washing" sperm of infected sperm donors.

The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission said on Monday that it had not received any ethical assessment application for the study, which is a prerequisite for such experiments.

Tsui Lap-chee, president of the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, said if one gene is edited, it will affect others that interact with it. The AP says consent forms described it as an "AIDS vaccine development" program. 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.

"Scientists who go rogue.it carries a deep, deep cost to the scientific community", Daley said.

He recruited HIV-positive heterosexual couples who wanted to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization, or IVF, to participate in the work through an AIDS advocacy group.

Some staff at some of the other hospitals were kept in the dark about the nature of the research, which He and Deem said was done to keep some participants' HIV infection from being disclosed.

When the embryos were 3 to 5 days old, a few cells were removed and checked for editing.

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