China orders probe into scientist claims of first gene-edited babies

China orders probe into scientist claims of first gene-edited babies

"The mother started her pregnancy by regular IVF with one difference. If it's not me, it's someone else", said Jiankui in an interview with the Associated Press.

As experts cast doubt over the claimed breakthrough and others decried it as a modern form of eugenics, China's National Health Commission ordered an "immediate investigation" into the case, the official Xinhua news agency reported early Tuesday (Nov 27), citing a statement on the NHC's website.

"This is a practice with the least degree of ethical justifiability and acceptability", Qiu said.

In this Oct 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.

He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, detailed his findings to about 700 people at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong. Twin girls were born a few weeks ago, purportedly protected from HIV when CRISPR disabled a gene that would otherwise allow HIV to enter their cells.

Riley, a physician, told BP that He's research is "morally problematic" and seems to be "a product of not seeing a human as more than his or her genes".

"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example", He said.

He, who holds a Ph.D. from Rice University in Houston, will be a panelist at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong this week.

The experiment also caused anger overseas.

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)".

George J. Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University, was also critical of He's announcement.

"I must apologise that this result was leaked unexpectedly", he said. "We have a small opportunity to close it before it's too late".

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

Musunuru reviewed some of he's scientific data and said he believes the genetic edits on the embryos were incomplete, meaning the girls may not be totally immune to HIV.

The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission said on Monday that it had not received any ethical assessment application for the study, which is a prerequisite for such experiments.

On social media in China, however, some were optimistic and exuberant about the prospects the claimed breakthrough could bring to fighting disease. Individuals with one copy of the mutated gene can still contract HIV, but they may have an increased ability to ward off the effects of the disease.

The reports that the "researchers" involved have no experience running clinical trials, and who are trained in physical sciences.

Others were anxious about the bigger ramifications.

But He's claims have not been verified by outside scientists, and there are questions about how the work was conducted.

"People are not quite clear about the long-term function of every gene yet".

In a series of videos posted on YouTube, He explained that his experiment had worked and that the gene editing hadn't made any unintentional changes to the children's DNA, but Topol said that it was "frankly not possible" to make that claim and added that now Nana and Lulu's offspring would be affected in ways that no one fully understands.

It's a technology that lets scientists alter the DNA of living cells - from plants, animals, even humans - more precisely than ever before.

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".

With the Genetic Genie out of the bottle, we have to ask whether we need any more time to reflect on the ethics?

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