ibusinesslines.com December 09, 2018

Founder of CRISPR Gene-Editing Technology Calls Experiment "Irresponsible"

28 November 2018, 12:11 | Justin Tyler

Local researcher calls for halt to genetically edited embryos

Chinese researcher stakes claim to world’s first genetically edited babies

The adjustment is meant to make the children's cells resistant to infection by HIV, says the scientist, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China.

"Southern University of Science and Technology strictly requires scientific research to conform to national laws and regulations and to respect and comply with global academic ethics and standards", it said.

Other scientists, meanwhile, asked to see details of the experiment and its justification before passing judgment. The scientist claimed he altered seven couples' embryos during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting. In each of the unidentified couples, the father was HIV positive and the mother was not.

These twin girls may pass their newfound resistance to HIV to their own children.

In this way, researchers can precisely turn off specific genes in the genome. The risk of transmission drops even lower when the sperm is washed before insemination through in vitro fertilization, as occurred here.

He Jiankui, the scientist who led the effort, announced the outcome in a promotional video on YouTube Sunday, just days ahead of participating in an worldwide conference on human genome editing scheduled to take place this week in Hong Kong.

For a responsible debate, participants must state not only their conclusion about this particular act of enhancement, but also where they will build a wall and, critically, how this wall will be maintained in the future.

While the prospect of using CRISPR-Cas9 to remove or rearrange bits of DNA underpinning serious genetic diseases is exciting, the tool should only be used in humans once it is known to be completely safe and under strict ethical guidelines, she said.

The gene editing tools modified a gene called CCR5.

But in the early 1950s, Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the chemical structure of DNA, which suggested that the genes of humans could be improved through chemical modification of their reproductive cells.

Chinese researcher stakes claim to world’s first genetically edited babies

Much of the research is focused around laboratory and animal testing, since the safety of gene editing on human beings has not been confirmed. Whether it fits within China's regulatory environment is not clear. However, the biologist is scheduled to give a talk on Wednesday. He also invited viewers to send comments to his lab and to the two babies, named Lula and Nana.

One of the most important ethical issues regarding CRISPR is the risk-benefit balance associated with it. "If true, this experiment is monstrous", Oxford University ethics professor Julian Savulescu told the Guardian newspaper.

Interestingly, some of the strongest ethical objections to the experiment came from ethicists who have in other venues defended gene editing.

However, the Shenzhen commission said the hospital's ethics committee was not valid because the hospital did not register the committee's establishment with the commission as required. "Hopefully these kids will not have any health problems", he says.

He said in one YouTube video that the editing process, which he called gene surgery, "worked safely as intended" and that the resulting twins were "as healthy as any other babies".

CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, notes that the work has not been published and urged caution in a statement released today.

In an open letter circulating online, the scientists said the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China.

He apparently anticipated such a reaction to his announcement.

The Chinese government has ordered an "immediate investigation" into the alleged delivery of the world's first genetically edited babies, as experts worldwide have voiced outrage at such use of the technology.

He adds that the United Kingdom's Nuffield Council on Bioethics's report on human genome editing, released in July, reached similar conclusions. "When we start picking and choosing which genes we want to continue having, we are taking part in an experiment that is not ours". Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, notes that the National Academies report does mention CCR5 as a potential target of gene editing.

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