Researcher claims creation of first gene-edited babies

Genetically edited babies

"While completely unsubstantiated, the reports today of the birth of the first genome- edited babies are hugely alarming". He claims the twin girls were born earlier this month and that he altered their DNA with the CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing tool, which he did to confer a built-in immunity to the AIDS virus.

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

\While editing the DNA of a human embryo is not now allowed in the US, 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. He worked with seven heterosexual couples in which the male partner was HIV positive and the women were HIV negative.

The work, which also involved US bioengineer Michael Deem, was not peer-reviewed. Deem was He's adviser when he studied at there. "So even if we're trying to fix Gene A, for a fraction of the time it's possible that they may edit in locations B, C and D, and maybe even more". Although China prohibits human cloning, it does not specifically outlaw gene editing. He refused to identify the parents or their location, and no scientific journal has independently verified his claims.

With a sceptical research community waiting for evidence of He's claims, the scientist is expected to speak at the same conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday and Thursday.

What's the reaction from other scientists?

Zhang Linqi, a professor at Tsinghua University who specializes in HIV treatment, said that He's gene-editing experiment using healthy embryos is "unwise and unethical".

"If true, this experiment is monstrous", he said.

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". Even publication is no guarantee of truth, as the 2006 South Korean human cloning fakery should remind us. "It's a big deal".

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"Not only do I see this as risky, but I am also deeply concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding this trial", said Mr. Zhang, reiterating his support of a moratorium on implantation of edited embryos. The claims have resulted in worldwide outrage and the university where the researcher is working said the work "has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct". Jiankui claims he used an experimental tool, CRISPR-cas9, to cut and paste genes. The edit removes the doorway through which HIV enters the cell to infect people, He said in the video.

Also, some so-called mitochondrial disorders can be addressed by using some genetic material from the mother and some from a donor egg, along with the father's sperm.

Many fear that editing human embryos will create a slippery slope to eugenics.

The scientific community has expressed widespread condemnation of He's decision to initiate a pregnancy using genetically modified embryos - as "dangerous, "irresponsible" and "crazy".

Six implant attempts of 11 embryos were made before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He told the AP. Such is the case with these twins in China, who-if they are indeed genetically modified-will pass modified DNA down to any children they have. He said there appeared to be no harm caused to other genes.

Asked for his comment on the university's statement, He said he had been on voluntary leave for several years to focus on his research, without specifying dates.

Liu Wei, a Chinese scientist, said that right now there still are too many uncertainties, adding that the technology has the capability of becoming a genetic version of Frankenstein.

"I believe this is going to help the families and their children", He told The Associated Press, who first reported the claim.

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