Chinese scientist claims world's first gene-edited babies

First gene-edited babies claimed in China

Scientists and bioethics experts reacted with shock, anger, and alarm Monday to a Chinese researcher's claim that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, said he altered embryos when parents were undergoing fertility treatments to change a gene so that it might provide the resulting babies with a trait few people naturally have - protection against future infection with the AIDS virus.

Reuters reports that the Southern University of Science and Technology notes in a statement that it "strictly requires scientific research to conform to national laws and regulations and to respect and comply with global academic ethics and standards".

Instead, the appeal was to offer couples affected by HIV a chance to have a child that might be protected from a similar fate.

Baylis said there are a number of potential harms from the research, both to the children involved and society at large.

"I think this just shows the time is now that you have to talk about the ethics of genome editing, because the world may not wait", said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.

It's only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes are confined to that person. A single sperm cell, he says, was placed into a single egg and an embryo was thus formed. Specifically, He deleted a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. His work has resulted in one pregnancy so far.

The university issued a statement after He said in five videos posted on Monday that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genes of twin girls.

"Gene surgery is and should remain a technology for healing", He added. At 3-5 days old, the embryos were checked for editing.

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"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.

In general, those with one copy of the gene can still contract HIV, but there are chances that their rate of decline, when it comes to health could happen more slowly if they do.

They also noted evidence that the editing was incomplete and that at least one twin appears to be a patchwork of cells with various changes.

With genomics becoming more widely discussed as a scientific and social topic in recent years, He's gene-edited babies have ignited controversy on Chinese social media. It is unknown whether the procedure is safe or, if used in pregnancy, whether it can have unintended consequences for the babies later in life or for future generations.

The gene editing tools modified a gene called CCR5.

"It's nearly like not editing at all" if only certain cells go through adjustment, HIV infection can still occur, Church said.

The group's pioneer that shares the namesake of the editing technology has enrolled its first patient in a European study and recently opened enrollment in the US for patients with severe sickle cell disease in trials with partner Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Tim Caulfield, a professor of health and law at the University of Alberta, said he believes there is "an emerging worldwide consensus that this research should progress" but added that "we're not at the state right now where we want to be using this technology in the clinic".

On consent forms that the parents were asked to sign, He called his work "AIDS vaccine development", the AP reported, so it is not clear if the parents of the girls understood what he planned to do. Numerous studies have provided guidance for the conduct of heritable genome-editing clinical trials. Some research suggests that while knocking out the CCR5 would help the twins resist HIV infection, they might become more susceptible to infection by West Nile virus. Eleven embryos were used in six attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, Mr He said. "But I believe families need this technology". If it causes unwanted side effects or harm, "I would feel the same pain as they do and it's going to be my own responsibility".

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