"Horrifying": Global outrage after Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies

The development emerged Sunday in an article published by industry journal

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero sparked controversy past year when he claimed to have conducted the world's first head transplant on a corpse at a Chinese hospital, the state-run Global Times reported at the time, though other scientists have called his claims overblown.

He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China told the Associated Press that embryos from seven couples who underwent in vitro fertilisation had been edited.

Couples chose whether they wanted to try to get pregnant with edited or unedited embryos.

He, the scientist, said his team performed "gene surgery" on embryos created from their parents' eggs and sperm to protect the girls, Lulu and Nana, from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of CRISPR editing, has called for a global moratorium on using the technology to create gene-edited babies. A particular mutation in that CCR5 gene is thought to confer some resistance to HIV by making it harder for that virus to enter cells.

China's National Health Commission said it was "highly concerned" about the claims and ordered local health officials "to immediately investigate" He's activity.

He, on the other hand, has apparently jumped ahead to producing the first human babies born with CRISPR editing. "We have begun a full investigation of Dr".

The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission denounced the legitimacy of the hospital ethics committee and the review process that approved the application.

Media reports triggered Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology, where He is now on unpaid leave, to release a statement Monday explaining that the organisation was "deeply shocked" and is trying to establish communications with He to clarify the extent of his research. Deem, the Rice scientist who says he took part in the work, called that ridiculous. The university condemned He's work, saying it "seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct" and the university was "unaware of the project and its nature".

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Without commenting directly on He's controversially claimed work, Baltimore said: "It is unfortunate that his work has not yet been peer-reviewed, and so there is not an independent analysis offered by experts".

Another ethical concern is the scientists involved have a financial interest in the companies that would benefit most from the success of the technology. He is scheduled to talk about human embryo editing on Wednesday and its "moral principles" on Thursday. "It's not known if those pregnancies were terminated, carried to term, or are ongoing".

More than 120 Chinese scientists have co-signed a letter, released on China's social media site Weibo, condemning He's work and calling it "a strike at the reputation and development of China's science, especially in biomedical research", according to a translation by Quartz. Because there's (supposedly) been an global agreement not to do such experiments on human embryos. "It's extremely unfair to Chinese scientist who are diligent, innovative and defending the bottom line of scientific ethics".

Bioethicist Julian Savulescu from the University of Oxford described the experiment as "monstrous" in an interview with the BBC.

Notre Dame Law School professor O. Carter Snead, a former presidential adviser on bioethics, called the report "deeply troubling, if true". "That should be banned", He said in one of the videos.

Joyce Harper, a professor in genetics and human embryology at the Institute for Women's Health at University College London, described the alleged research "premature, risky and irresponsible", calling for public debate and legislation. Other researchers are developing ways to gene-edit damaged cells and return them, repaired, into patients with sickle cell disease and other disorders.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Mr. Cole-Turner, who is also a United Church of Christ minister, said religious belief is generally in favor of medical technologies that heal and that if genetic editing is used to prevent disease, then the majority of religions would support it. "We also do not need gene editing to ensure it isn't passed on to offspring", she said. That presents its leaders with a dilemma: Whether to follow the U.S. and Europe in strictly regulating its application, or take a more hands-off approach, catalysing rapid innovation in a strategic industry at the cost of what could be serious risks to patients.



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