Chinese scientist claims world’s first gene-edited babies, sparks international outcry

Chinese scientist claims world’s first gene-edited babies, sparks international outcry

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".

In an online video posted on Monday, He Jiankui, a biological researcher, announced that twin baby girls, Lulu and Nana, born healthy a few weeks ago, were conceived through in vitro fertilization and genetically edited for immunity to HIV infection. The scientist claimed he altered seven couples' embryos during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting.

He says his team performed "gene surgery" on embryos created from their parents' sperm and eggs to protect the children from the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, which causes AIDS. Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of CRISPR editing, has called for a global moratorium on using the technology to create gene-edited babies.

The university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday that said the researcher had been on unpaid leave since February, and that the school was unaware of the experiment.

All of the men in the project had HIV and all of the women did not, but the gene editing was not aimed at preventing the small risk of transmission, Mr He said.

A follow-up report from MIT Technology Review noted that the Shenzhen City Medical Ethics Expert Board will also be investigating He's research. That's one of the reasons why researchers are concerned about the report.

He Jiankui, who goes by "JK", studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.

Although there is no explicit ban on gene editing of embryos in China, the ministries of science and technology and public health have issued ethical guidelines, which say that no human embryos used for research can been be implanted in humans or animals for reproduction. A pre-print is a publication of findings made before the research is published in a peer-reviewed journal. Editing sperm, eggs or embryos is different - the changes can be inherited.

The scientists are not sure about the repercussions of this technology, for it can hamper the future generation.

More than 100 scientists signed a petition calling for greater oversight on gene editing experiments.

"The medical ethics review exists in the name only".

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"If verified, this work is a break from the cautious and transparent approach of the global scientific community's application of CRISPR-Cas9 for human germline editing", Dr. Doudna said.

"It is extremely unfair to the vast majority of Chinese scholars who are diligent in scientific research and innovation".

Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, described the alleged births as "genetic Russian Roulette". But, Topol said, since He has undertaken this experiment, scientists should take the opportunity to find out how it worked.

Scientists outside of China have been equally critical of He's work warning that modifying healthy embryos in children was irresponsible.

This effort has been widely denounced as unethical experimentation on human beings.

The issue of editing human DNA is extremely controversial, and only allowed in the U.S. in laboratory research - although United States scientists said past year that they had successfully edited the genetic code of piglets to remove dormant viral infections.

George Church, from Harvard, however, defended this research. "No gene was changed except the one to prevent HIV infection". The technology also carries the risk of affecting other genes unintentionally.

The gene editing tool was added to the lab dish.

"(Chinese people) have a high willingness to use of gene in disease prevention and treatment", Liang Chen, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University is quoted as saying.

Professor Joyce Harper, professor in genetics and human embryology at London's UCL, said: "Today's report of genome editing human embryos for resistance to HIV is premature, risky and irresponsible".

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