Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Chinese scientist created human babies using gene editing resistant to HIV

Jiankui He                  YouTube  The He Lab Jiankui He YouTube The He Lab
Elijah Vega | 28 November, 2018, 08:29

Scientists and ethicists on Monday debated the fearless, new world of designer babies and gene pool manipulation, heralded by the announcement that a Chinese researcher had delivered the first gene-edited human babies.

Southern University of Science and Technology, where Jiankui works, issued a statement, seemingly condemning the claim.

"Two handsome little Chinese girls name Lulu and Nana came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago".

Annas also faulted He for conducting his research on "twins instead of one baby" and said scientists should "never endanger two children with a first of its kind experiment-but should do one and not add others until safety (and efficacy) are confirmed in the first". "And I'm willing to take the criticism for them", He said.

"Grossly premature and deeply unethical", is how noted USA bioethicist Henry Greely of Stanford University characterised the claim. The idea of modifying DNA has led to major concern over "designer babies" which are built to their parents' desires, and many view He's work as a slippery slope that could lead mankind to some seriously scary places.

In this October 9, 2018 photo, Zhou Xiaoqin adjusts a monitor showing a video feed of a fine glass pipette containing Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA to an embryo under a microscope at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.

In interviews, He Jiankui defended his work.

He says he altered the DNA of twin girls when they were conceived to try to help them resist possible future infection with the AIDS virus.

"Pandora's Box has been opened, but we may still have a chance to close it before it is irreparable", a group of more than 120 Chinese researchers said in a joint statement criticising the influence of He's work on other scientists.

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

He had studied in the past at Rice and Stanford universities in the United States.

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.

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But his university said it was a "serious violation of academic ethics and standards" and scientists around the world condemned it as monstrous and unsafe.

"Results of the investigation will be promptly released to the public", the statement said.

"This review could be fraudulent", said Qiu, adding that the hospital was not the institutional review board of the university where He belonged to. But he remains an employee and still works in the laboratory.

China's National Health Commission has ordered officials to investigate and verify He's claims.

"We believe the research led by He is strongly against both the Chinese regulations and the consensus reached by the global science community", the two groups said in a statement posted online.

In this October 9, 2018 photo, a microplate containing embryos that have been injected with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA is seen in a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.

The most recent Chinese government pronouncement, a 2017 document from the Science and Technology Ministry, said only that gene-editing research involves great risks and urged rigorous supervision.

The US and many European countries have heavily restricted the use of Crispr for the so-called germ-line editing - making changes that will impact the descendants of an original patient - that He claims to have performed in China. For now, human gene editing trials are limited to cautious, well-designed and transparent studies that do not produce heritable changes. Editing sperm, eggs or embryos is different because such changes can be passed down. Such experimentation is illegal in the USA and some other nations.

Is gene-editing for pregnancy legal?

In the years since that moratorium began, scientists have generally been warming to the idea that it might be worth editing embryos in order to delete a serious disease gene, say.

"Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as insane", they said.

In its statement, the university said it was unaware of He's project or its nature, and noted that the experiment was not conducted on its campus. "If true, this experiment is monstrous", he told Reuters. The edit removes the doorway through which HIV enters the cell to infect people, He said in the video. The goal of the experiment was to eliminate a gene (CCR5) in hopes of making the children resistant to diseases such as HIV, smallpox, and cholera. Hai Do was the editor. "When we start picking and choosing which genes we want to continue having, we are taking part in an experiment that is not ours".

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