Q&A on scientist’s bombshell claim of gene-edited babies

Chinese Scientist Claims to Have Created the First Gene Edited Babies Using CRISPR

The Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies revealed another woman in his study is possibly pregnant.

Bombshell: He made the claim about the early-stage pregnancy on the second day of an worldwide gene-editing summit at the University of Hong Kong.

The process involved in editing the twin girls' DNA, as described, began as a regular In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process wherein the mother's eggs were fertilized by the father's sperm to create an embryo in a laboratory environment.

He's research team included his former Rice University adviser, physics professor Michael Deem, who sits on the scientific advisory boards of He's two genetics companies.

He wasn't trying to cure an existing disease, but rather remove the pathway through which HIV enters by instructing CRISPR-Cas9 to disable a gene called CCR5.

The move prompted a heated debate among the scientific community, with many raising concerns over the lack of verified data and the risks of exposing healthy embryos to gene editing.

But scientists and the Chinese Government denounced the work he said he carried out, and a hospital linked to his research suggested its ethical approval had been forged.

He said the girls were conceived to try to help them resist possible future infection with the AIDS virus.

"I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology and I'm willing to take the criticism for them", he said in his video.

Such genetic tinkering contravenes global ethical guidelines and some countries' laws regulating the use of gene-editing in human reproduction - which some call the slippery slope towards designer babies.

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He Jiankui says he altered the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month to make them resistant to HIV infection.

But experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could cause harm not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit these same changes.

After He spoke, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate from the California Institute of Technology and a leader of the conference, said He's work "would still be considered irresponsible" because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered.

Daley spoke Wednesday at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong, where the Chinese scientist, He Jiankui (HEH JEE-ahn-qway) of Shenzhen, also is scheduled to speak. "It's a big deal.' However, Harvard geneticist George Church defended attempting gene editing for HIV, which he called 'a growing public health threat".

"Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after investigation", SUSTC said in the statement.

"As scientists studying gene therapies as a potential cure for HIV, we condemn an experiment that reportedly used gene editing technologies on human embryos, blatantly disregarding our worldwide ethical norms", they wrote.

However, the university distanced itself from He's research on Monday, claiming it had not been aware of the project - a position He confirmed during his talk on Wednesday.

Daley, for his part, says he was surprised to hear that He knew about the brain research. HIV is not an appropriate candidate because there are already safe ways to prevent transmission, and if contracted it can be kept under control with medications, researchers said.

But genome editing could also more controversially used for genetic enhancements, such as ensuring children have a particular desirable characteristic such as a certain eye colour.

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