Published: Wed, November 28, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

"Horrifying": Global outrage after Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies

On Monday, more than 120 scholars from prestigious universities and institutes from China and overseas such as Tsinghua University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology strongly condemned the research in a signed statement, saying it lacks effective ethics oversight and amounts to human experiments.

His claims were widely criticised by other scientists, who called the idea monstrous.

He's university in China, where he was on unpaid leave, said it was "deeply shocked" by his research, which it believes "seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct".

AP quoted a Pennsylvania scientist as stating He's research is "unconscionable" while a Seattle scientist told NPR that it has caused humanity to enter "the room with the word "designer baby" on the door".

By editing the DNA of human embryos, scientists change not just the genes in a single person, but all their potential offspring - in effect, altering the human species. He worked with seven heterosexual couples in which the male partner was HIV positive and the women were HIV negative. He's goal was to introduce a rare, natural genetic variation that makes it more hard for HIV to infect its favorite target, white blood cells. Gene editing for this group might be life-saving; for these current babies, it is only life-risking.

Evangelical bioethicists have joined many of their secular peers in condemning research that reportedly led to the birth this month of the world's first genetically edited babies. Organizers of the conference told reporters at a pre-event briefing they were awaiting further details.

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.

He used revolutionary gene-editing technology CRISPR to disable a gene that allows HIV to infect cells. But these cases involved gene editing of so-called somatic cells that are not passed on to the patient's children.

He, who created two companies based on his studies, is scheduled to present his findings at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, and will certainly be the target of numerous questions from the leading gene-editing scientists in attendance. Whether it fits within China's regulatory environment is not clear. He revealed it Monday, Nov. 26, in Hong Kong to one of the organizers of an worldwide conference on gene editing. He in a YouTube video. If true, many experts say it is a unsafe leap in science and ethics.

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Some researchers are trying to use genetic editing technology to treat people infected with HIV, so the virus will not replicate and be transmitted to others, he said.

Pablo Tebas, a clinical researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who led a small study that crippled CCR5 in HIV-infected adults using what's known as zinc finger technology, similarly denounced the embryo adjustment.

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. "Hopefully these kids will not have any health problems", he says. In fact, this was essentially an unnecessary enhancement procedure that would be associated with risks that do not have offsetting benefits.

"The implications for cowboy-style "researchers" taking experiments into their own hands risk damaging the already fragile relationship between science and society".

Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California-Berkeley, is - with Mr. Zhang - one of the earlier discoverers of CRISPR. The news spread like wildfire and garnered huge criticism from scientists for meddling with embryos using technology.

"All of us here at this conference are struggling to figure out what was done and also whether the process was done properly", she said.

While there are no laws or regulations in China forbidding the creation of genome-edited children, such practice is widely condemned by the worldwide scientific community.

He adds that the United Kingdom's Nuffield Council on Bioethics's report on human genome editing, released in July, reached similar conclusions.

Doudna and other researchers noted that genetically editing for HIV didn't solve an unmet need. The U.S. does not allow gene editing in human embryos outside of laboratory research.

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