Genetically Engineered Baby Claim Met with Investigations and Doubt

Monday, 03 Dec, 2018

A Chinese scientist at the centre of a controversy over what he claims are the world's first genetically edited children has apologised for the result being leaked.

Gene editing for reproductive purposes might be considered in the future "but only when there is compelling medical need", with clear understanding of risks and benefits, and certain other conditions, said Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, one of the conference sponsors.

CRISPR is a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit sections of DNA.

"Given the current early state of genome editing technology, I'm in favor of a moratorium on implantation of edited embryos ... until we have come up with a thoughtful set of safety requirements first", Feng Zhang, one of the co-discoverers of CRISPR and from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in a statement responding to the report.

Multiple investigations are being sought in the wake of reports that a Chinese laboratory facilitated the birth of twin girls whose genes had been edited to protect them against the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Dr He and his colleagues used CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in human embryos to remove a gene called CCR5, with the aim of producing "HIV-resistant infants". The twin girls were born in China this month, and their DNA - as per the Chinese scientist - was edited using a technology, which allows rewriting the very blueprints of life. 'This would be a highly irresponsible, unethical and unsafe use of genome editing technology.

According to the scientist, the parents participating in the experiment, refuse to reveal their identity and want their names, place of work and position remained confidential.

The Shenzhen university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday that said the researcher had been on unpaid leave from February 1, 2018 and was not expected to return until January 2021.

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. China outlaws human cloning but not specifically gene editing.

The scientist announced the alleged feat in an interview with the AP and to organizers of a gene editing conference in Hong Kong. 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.

Julian Savulescu, an expert in ethics at the University of Oxford, told the BBC, "If true, this experiment is monstrous".

Edit the genes happened in one of the stages of in Vitro fertilization. The summit was initially organized to attempt to reach a global consensus on whether and how it would be ethical to create genetically modified human beings with CRISPR.

The ministry "firmly opposes" such gene-editing and has "already demanded that the relevant organisation suspend the scientific activities of relevant personnel", Xu said.

This is not the first time Chinese researchers have experimented with human embryo technology. "We still have a lot of work to do to prove and establish that the procedure is actually safe", Musunuru said. "And I am willing to take the criticism for them".

According to Jiankui and his colleagues, they used CRISPR to make changes in one-day old embryos in a gene called CCR5. 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.