Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Chinese scientist claims world’s first genetically edited babies

Chinese scientist says he helped create the world's first gene-edited human babies World's first gene-edited human babies born. Image via Pixabay
Kristen Harrington | 03 December, 2018, 03:16

A prominent American scientist is warning against a backlash to the claim that a Chinese scientist has helped make the world's first gene-edited babies.

He added that "another potential pregnancy" of a gene-edited embryo was in its early stages.

"The genetic editing of a speck-size human embryo carries significant risks, including the risks of introducing unwanted mutations or yielding a baby whose body is composed of some edited and some unedited cells", says the MIT Technology Review. "The babies are home now with their mom Grace and their dad Mark". Lulu and Nana's father is HIV-positive.

Dr He recalled the "media hyped panic" over the birth of the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown, 40-years ago.

Harvard biologist and genetics pioneer George Church told STAT he's been in contact with the Shenzhen team and seen its data.

The real local authority - Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission - said it had never heard of this project before and has already launched an investigation.

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He had studied in the past at Rice and Stanford universities in the United States.

The Shenzhen university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday that said the researcher had been on unpaid leave from February 1, 2018 and was not expected to return until January 2021.

He chose to announce his experiment one day ahead of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing to be held in Hong Kong - a three-day summit co-hosted by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine. The summit was initially organized to attempt to reach a global consensus on whether and how it would be ethical to create genetically modified human beings with CRISPR.

Southern University said in a statement it would be investigating the experiment, which appeared to have "seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct".

Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers of genome editing from the University of California, Berkeley, said that the experiment appeared to be a "clear break" from the cautious and transparent approach recommended by worldwide leaders.

"All of us that are here at this conference are struggling to figure out what was done and also whether the process was done properly".

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"We don't know how much of this is true or verified".

Professor Joyce Harper, professor in genetics and human embryology at London's UCL, said: "Today's report of genome editing human embryos for resistance to HIV is premature, risky and irresponsible". She doesn't believe this is the case for this particular situation.

But several scientists say there are other ways to prevent HIV transmission to embryos, such such as washing sperm.

CRISPR pioneers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier rightly noted the need for a rational public discourse on the use of the technology. Those with one copy of the gene can still get infected with HIV, however some research suggests their health might decline more slowly if they do. The twins appear to be healthy and underwent detailed genetic analysis. He called "gene surgery" a "technology for healing".

Dr He's video then went online, prompting a heated debate among the scientific community, including experts who cast doubt over the claimed breakthrough and others who decried it as a modern form of eugenics.

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