Published: Thu, November 29, 2018
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

Chinese Scientists Suspended After Claims of Creating ‘World’s First Gene-Edited Babies’

Chinese Scientists Suspended After Claims of Creating ‘World’s First Gene-Edited Babies’

Throughout the book, readers get a sense that the characters and the world they inhabit aren't quite real.

The researcher used the CRISPR-cas9 to operate on DNA by either adding a gene or disabling a problem one. After their donations, the children's fate is sealed: They will die. His team targeted a specific gene, CCR5, which plays a role in HIV's spread to healthy cells. Perhaps because this science always seems like it's on the brink of being possible, but slightly out of reach.

If He's claims are accurate, Annas wrote, then the academic violated "a growing medical-scientific consensus that gene editing not be used on human embryos to create a baby until much more is known about its safety (especially "off target" effects), how to obtain informed consent, and how to monitor any resulting children (and their children) for at least 3 generations (indeed, the Hong Kong conference is the second global one on the science and ethics of Human Genome Editing, designed especially to create an worldwide consensus)".

Zhang was responding to bombshell claims by He Jiankui of Shenzhen, who said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. The researcher studied at both Rice and Stanford before going back to China and opening up two genetics companies in addition to his lab at Southern University.

If the claims are correct, and they are certainly plausible, this is the first time CRIPSR has been used to create permanent changes in human genomes - changes that would be passed on to future generations. One of the babies had only one copy of the CCR5 gene edited, which was not enough to confer HIV resistance. Expanding on his motivations in a YouTube video, He spoke about discrimination that HIV-positive people still face in China and many developing countries. Did He know enough about the technology to ensure that the children would be healthy, or might they contract other deadly viruses? "But I believe families need this technology".

This move has triggered a flurry of backlash and concern in the scientific community.

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A visual representation of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.

It's only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes are confined to that person. But when it comes to embryos, those changes can be inherited by future generations.

"Not only do I see this as risky, but I am also deeply concerned about the lack of transparency" around the work, Zhang, a scientist at MIT's Broad Institute, said in a statement.

Jiankui, however, said he told participants that the procedure was experimental and carried risks. "We still need to understand the motivation for this".

Critics such as Sandip Patel of the University of California at San Diego were legion on social media. "The most likely first legitimate use of gene edited embryos would be to prevent serious genetic disorders for which there are no alternatives", Daley says.

He took leave from teaching this year but is still on SUSTech's faculty and runs a lab there. He announced his intentions with the work on a Chinese clinical trial database on November 8, 2018 well after the research was underway. Regarding the gene-edited babies, Au stressed that there was uncertainty about this experiment as there were no verified facts except He's claim. Over 120 Chinese scientists from leading research universities such as Peking University and Tsinghua University in China, Stanford in the United States, and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research signed a joint statement condemning He's research."The project completely ignored the principles of biomedical ethics, conducting experiments on humans without proving it's safe", said Qiu Zilong, a neuroscience researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (中国科学) who penned the statement posted on social media platform, Weibo."We can only describe such behavior as insane". And at what point does this logic stop?

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