Researchers Say World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Born in China

Researchers Say World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Born in China

It raised deep questions for scientists about whether traditional oversight channels were followed, as well as what to believe about the experiment and the results, although He posted an ethical approval form for the process on his website.

He said the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where the work was done.

There is no independent confirmation of Mr He's claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts. JK spoke of his study this week in Hong Kong, notes the report, to one organizer of an worldwide conference on gene editing and has also spoken to the AP on what his research has found so far.

If He Jiankui's claims are true, this development would be a profound leap in the field of genetics as well as scientific ethics, points out an AP report.

It is "unconscionable ... an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible", said Dr Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal. "We don't know how much of this is true or verified. It's a big deal". The Broad Institute's Feng Zhang is calling for a moratorium on gene editing in embryos, while UC Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna released a statement saying "this work reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene editing in human embryos to settings where a clear unmet medical need exists and where no other medical approach is a viable option".

"I think this just shows the time is now that you have to talk about the ethics of genome-editing, because the world may not wait", said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.

The researcher used the CRISPR-cas9 to operate on DNA by either adding a gene or disabling a problem one.

About 40 countries have some kind of law or regulation at least discouraging the type of experiments done in China, where gene-edited embryos are actually implanted in mothers. In the US, it's not allowed except for lab research.

In 2002, claims that a cult had created a cloned human baby caused a media firestorm. 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. US scientist Michael Deem also worked on the project. Deem also holds what he called "a small stake" in - and is on the scientific advisory boards of - He's two companies.

The Chinese researcher said he practised editing mice, monkey and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents on his methods. The researchers targeted a gene called CCR5, which encodes an immune system protein that the HIV virus latches onto in order to enter cells. That is at the core of why the Chinese project - which purports to have changed genes to prevent the resulting person from ever getting HIV - is being condemned.

Although the scientists were trying to find a cure for HIV altering the inception of the cell, they failed.

Instead, the appeal was to offer couples affected by HIV a chance to have a child that might be protected from a similar fate. The seven couples in the human trial were recruited through a Beijing-based AIDS advocacy group. Its leader, known by the pseudonym "Bai Hua", told the AP that it's not uncommon for people with HIV to lose jobs or have trouble getting medical care if their infections are revealed.

The gene editing tool was added to the lab dish. First, the sperm cells were "washed" to separate them from semen, this is where HIV could possibly be found. Using IVF, a single sperm was placed with a single egg where it created an embryo.

Gene editing is a process of modifying strands of DNA that controls the entire body.

At around 3 to 5 days old, a few cells were taken from the embryo and checked if it was possible to edit them.

"Any attempt to directly transform human embryos and produce babies has massive risks". Eleven embryos were used in six attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, Mr He said. He said there appeared to be no harm caused to other genes. People with one copy can still get HIV.

A number of scientists have so far reviewed data that He gave to the AP, notes the report.

"It's nearly like not editing at all" if only some of certain cells were altered, because HIV infection can still occur, Church said.

"In that child, there really was nearly nothing to be gained in terms of protection against HIV and yet you're exposing that child to all the unknown safety risks", Musunuru said.

"This event might be analogous to Louise Brown in 1978", wrote George Church, a prominent Harvard geneticist, in an email.

Even if editing worked perfectly, people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from the flu. However, there are also concerns about its safety and ethics.

After He started the work, he gave official notice- on November 8 - on a Chinese registry of clinical trials.

Yet many scientists say the experiment was premature and the potential benefits not worth the risk. They have said that the tests so far are insufficient. They received free fertility treatments as part of the agreement to participate.

"The University will call for global experts to form an independent committee to investigate this incident, and to release the results to the public", the university added. If it causes unwanted side effects or harm, "I would feel the same pain as they do and it's going to be my own responsibility".

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