Gene-edited baby claim by Chinese scientist sparks outrage

What we know — and don't — about claim of the first gene-edited babies

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

He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. "This is a red line", one conference attendee told He.

He also said he had halted his clinical trials for the time being due to the uproar, but the 34-year-old scientist added he would consider altering the genes of his future children.

"I must apologize, this result was leaked unexpectedly", He Jiankui told a Hong Kong medical conference on Wednesday, as cited by AFP.

Au said that, while He's presentation offered the public more information about his gene editing research, he did not disclose how many such studies he had done in total. Many researchers are interested in using the technology to eliminate or treat genetic diseases, as Business Insider has previously reported.

He's unverified claim came on the eve of an worldwide summit dedicated to discussing the emerging science and ethics around powerful tools that give scientists unprecedented potential to tweak traits and eliminate genetic diseases - but that have raised fears of "designer babies".

"I think parents who really love their children will not use gene editing to increase their babies' intelligence, hair or eye color". We only found out about it after it's happened and after the children are born.

Despite the blowback, the beleaguered scientist continued to insist that he is "proud" of the experiment, which he funded himself.

Alta Charo, a highly respected University of Wisconsin bioethicist who helped organize the summit, issued an even harsher critique of He's work, calling it "misguided, premature, unnecessary and largely useless".

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"They need this protection since a vaccine is not available", He said. "In fact there is not only very little chance these babies would be in need of a benefit, given their low risk, but there is no way to evaluate if this indeed conferred any benefit".

"Scientists who go rogue carry a deep, deep cost to the scientific community", Daley says.

"The technology is not mature enough", Carol said. "We just don't know yet".

Second, for Associate Professor He Jiankui to use genetic editing technology for human embryo research, the Academic Committee of the Department of Biology believes that it seriously violates academic ethics and academic norms.

But Daley argued that a consensus was a emerging that "if we can solve the scientific challenges, it may be a moral imperative that it should be permitted".

However, one well-known geneticist, Harvard University's George Church, defended the attempt to edit genes to prevent infections of HIV.

Meanwhile, more American scientists said they had contact with He and were aware of or suspected what he was doing.

"I do think the principle of self-regulation is defensible", he says.

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They include Feng Zhang and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a powerful but simple new tool called CRISPR-cas9 that reportedly was used on the Chinese babies during fertility treatments when they were conceived. In one twin, all of her cells were edited so as to knock out the CCR5 gene; in the other, only some cells were. Scientists have long searched for ways to block this pathway to protect people from HIV.

Chinese bioethicist Qiu Renzong was quoted in a tweet by The CRISPR Journal as saying: "There is a convenient and practical method to prevent HIV infection".

A group of about 100 scientists said of the claim: "Pandora's box has been opened".

Julian Savulescu, a medical ethics expert at Britain's University of Oxford, agreed.

Asked for his comment on the university's statement, He said he had been on voluntary leave for several years to focus on his research, without specifying dates.

He claimed to have paid for the entire process, besides some sequencing costs covered by startup funding at his university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen (which has denied all knowledge of his work on the twins).

CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut-and-paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease.

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