Gene-editing scientist under scrutiny by Chinese officials

Chinese Scientist Claims He's Created World's First Gene-Edited Babies - D-brief

If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics.

There is no independent confirmation of He's claim, and he has not yet published in any scientific journal where it would be vetted by experts.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong.

During the presentation on Wednesday, He, said, "For this specific case, I feel proud". "Society will decide what to do next" in terms of allowing or forbidding such science.

During the summit, He's peers questioned the necessity of the experiment and reminded him of his responsibility for the lives of the gene-edited children.

"Wouldn't it be useful to try to define a global ethical code of conduct, at least a minimum of consent and what is research is and what is the standard?" asked Barbel Friedrich, director of the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald. "We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. I personally don't think it was medically necessary".

In recent years scientists have discovered a relatively easy way to edit genes, the strands of DNA that govern the body.

They include Feng Zhang and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a powerful but simple new tool called CRISPR-cas9 that reportedly was used on the Chinese babies during fertility treatments when they were conceived. It has only recently been tried in adults to treat serious diseases. Editing embryos, sperm, or eggs is a whole other thing, these changes can be inherited. In the US, it's not allowed except for lab research.

According to He, a pair of twins that underwent gene editing were recently born.

China's government ordered the research group to stop its work, according to the Associated Press. Deem also holds what he called "a small stake" in - and is on the scientific advisory boards of - He's two companies. In a YouTube video, He describes the procedure as having "removed the doorway through which HIV enters". 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. The criteria required the father to be HIV positive and the mother to be HIV negative.

Au also questioned whether it was ethical for He's test subjects to be recruited by an HIV/Aids advocacy group.

Moreover, polling is a crude and simplistic way to engage in public debate and deliberation over the controversial issue of gene editing. At 3-5 days a few cells were removed from the embryos to check for editing.

Lovell-Badge said Thursday that the organizers had felt it was "important to give He a platform to present what he had done".

Chinese Scientist Claims He's Created World's First Gene-Edited Babies - D-brief
Chinese researcher claims to have made the first CRISPR-edited babies

Instead of altering a gene, they turned off a genetic instruction essential for early embryo development to see how that affected growth.

One of many areas of confusion about Dr. One of the couples dropped out while these twins were born.

"Of course the work occurred", Deem said.

The girls had their genes edited so they could resist being infected with HIV, he said.

"In that child, there really was nearly nothing to be gained in terms of protection against HIV and yet you're exposing that child to all the unknown safety risks", Musunuru said.

The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, where He spoke, called clinical use of the techniques "irresponsible at this time". Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that proceeding with germ-line editing in this way was "irresponsible" and criticized He for not being more open.

Furthermore, the Chinese government has ordered and investigation into He's claims and work.

It's unclear whether participants fully understood the goal and potential risks and benefits. "I think there has been a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community because of the lack of transparency", he said.

Deem said he worked with He on vaccine research at Rice and considers the gene editing similar to a vaccine.

He added that "another potential pregnancy" of a gene-edited embryo was in its early stages. Staff at other hospitals were kept in the dark about the nature of his work to keep some of the participants information from being disclosed other than the fact that the samples might contain HIV.

Scientist Qin Jinzhou looks through the lenses of a microscope in He Jiankui's lab in Guangdong, China.

Yet He made a decision to proceed in the least transparent way possible, hiding his study from public view, colleagues and his institution, and even going so far as to ban participants from sharing with anyone their participation in the trial, on pain of financial penalty.

"I couldn't guarantee to you that he did what he claimed", she said.

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