Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Gene-edited baby claim by Chinese scientist sparks outrage

HeJiankui He Jiankui
Kristen Harrington | 28 November, 2018, 08:25

Designer babies might be here sooner than anyone reckoned.

Qiu Renzong, a bioethicist and emeritus professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, said He's decision to work outside established and supervised scientific protocols could taint the reputation of Chinese science.

But according to reports in the People's Daily, He said he would display results of the twins' blood from their umbilical cord at the Hong Kong seminar to prove the experiment was a success.

George Daley says it would be unfortunate if a misstep with a first case led scientists and regulators to reject the good that could come from altering DNA to treat or prevent diseases. But He said his breakthrough can protect children from a risky and deadly disease, and that he's on the right side of history.

The report that an embryo with a known failure in the editing process was transferred, suggesting that they were actually interested in testing the safety/efficacy of the technology and not the genetic resistance to HIV for the patients/babies.

Beijing has ordered an investigation.

He claims to have altered the twins' DNA while they were embryos. It's like a biological cut-and-paste program: An enzyme that acts like molecular scissors snips a section of a gene, allowing scientists to delete, fix or replace it.

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He has a successful history with genetic editing. "Based on the knowledge we have now, modifying the gene could avoid one disease but may bring about other problems", Liu noted. In one twin, all of her cells were edited so as to knock out the CCR5 gene; in the other, only some cells were. But unlike Monday's announcement, none of those experiments would alter DNA in a way that patients would pass to their own children.

This week, several Chinese institutions, including the university where He has served as an associate professor in biology, have disassociated themselves from his work.

In addition, Zhang said that in 2015, "the worldwide research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.' (This was the consensus statement from the 2015 worldwide Summit on Human Gene Editing.) It is my hope that this year's summit will serve as a forum for deeper conversations about the implications of this news and provide guidance on how we as a global society can best benefit from gene editing". A huge issue with this form of gene-editing is that it's done on germline cells, which means introduced traits are heritable.

There is not yet independent confirmation of his claim, but scientists and regulators have been swift to condemn the experiment as unethical and unscientific.

Why is the news so controversial?

To conduct the gene editing, He first isolated sperm and egg from each couple and then inserted a single sperm into a single egg to create an embryo.

"I think this is justifiable, " Church told the AP.

That lab-only research is going on, by Mitalipov and others.

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World's first genetically edited children?

People with one copy of the mutation can still get HIV.

The question at this point, according to Baylis, is whether there should be a global bans on gene editing until scientists can have a proper debate and potentially reduce the risks of harm. In a statement, the university said it was unaware of his work, emphasizing that it was not conducted on campus.

The biggest concern: That precision, or lack of it. "For example, he might have made a mutation in a place he didn't intend to make a mutation".

Under Canada's Human Reproduction Act, such germ-line editing is illegal and could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Where you live determines if, or what kind of, research can be performed on human embryos.

Scientists are able to carry out gene editing research on embryos have been discarded. 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. He explained the goal wasn't to prevent or cure an inherited disease, but to improve the embryo's chances of survival. Immediately after the 2016 experiment, the scientists destroyed the embryos, saying more research will be required before modified embryos can be implanted in a mother's womb.

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