290 Views

World’s First Gene-Edited Babies Created In China, Claims Scientist

A scientist in China claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, in a potentially ground-breaking and controversial medical first.

If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics. This kind of gene-editing is banned in most countries as the technology is still experimental and DNA changes can pass to future generations, potentially with unforeseen side-effects.

Many mainstream scientists think it is too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting so far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have: an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV.

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 He’s claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.

He revealed it on Monday in Hong Kong to one of the organisers of an international conference on geneediting that is due to begin on Tuesday, and earlier in interviews with the Associated Press.

“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” He said. “Society will decide what to do next” in terms of allowing or forbidding such science.

Some scientists were astounded to hear of the claim and strongly condemned it. It’s “unconscionable … an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene-editing expert.

“If true, this experiment is monstrous,” said Julian Savulescu, a professor of practical ethics at the University of Oxford. “The embryos were healthy. No known diseases. Gene-editing itself is experimental and is still associated with off-target mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer.”

“There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: for example, protected sex. And there are effective treatments if one does contract it. This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit. In many other places in the world, this would be illegal punishable by imprisonment.”

In recent years, scientists have discovered a relatively easy way to edit genes, the strands of DNA that govern the body. The tool, called Crispr-Cas9, makes it possible to operate on DNA to supply a needed gene or disable one that is causing problems.

It has only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes are confined to that person. If sperm, eggs or embryos were to be edited, the changes could then be inherited.

He studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.

He said he practised editing mice, monkey and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents on his methods. He said he chose embryo gene-editing for HIV because these infections are a major problem in China. He sought to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes Aids, to enter a cell.

All of the men in the project had HIV and all of the women did not, but the gene-editing was not aimed at preventing the small risk of transmission, he said. The fathers had their infections deeply suppressed by standard HIV medicines and there are simple ways to keep them from infecting offspring that do not involve altering genes. Instead, the appeal was to offer couples affected by HIV a chance to have a child that might be protected from a similar fate.

He said the gene-editing occurred during in vitro fertilisation. First, sperm was “washed” to separate it from semen, in which HIV can lurk. A single sperm was placed into a single egg to create an embryo. Then the gene-editing tool was added. When the embryos were three to five days old, a few cells were removed and checked for editing. Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts. In all, 16 of 22 embryos were edited, and 11 embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He said.

Tests suggest that one twin had both copies of the intended gene altered and the other twin had just one altered, with no immediate evidence of harm to other genes, He said. People with one copy of the gene can still get HIV.

Musunuru said that even if editing worked perfectly, people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of contracting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from flu. Since there are many ways to prevent HIV infection and it is treatable if it occurs, those other medical risks are a concern.

There also are questions about the way he said he proceeded. He gave official notice of his work long after he said he started it, on 8 November. It is also unclear whether participants fully understood the purpose and potential risks and benefits; for example, consent forms called the project an Aids vaccine development programme.

He said he personally made the goals clear and told participants that embryo gene-editing has never been tried before and carries risks. He said he also would provide insurance coverage for any children conceived through the project and plans medical follow-up until the children are 18, and longer if they agree once they are adults.

“I believe this is going to help the families and their children,” He said. 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.”

Dr Sarah Chan, a bioethicist at the University of Edinburgh, said that if true, the experiment was “of grave ethical concern”.

“Whether or not the veracity of these reports is eventually borne out, making such claims in a way that seems deliberately designed to provoke maximum controversy and shock value is irresponsible and unethical,” she said.

“The claim made by those responsible for the research is that the babies have been genome-edited in an attempt to make them immune to HIV. The lifetime risk of contracting HIV is extremely low in the first place; there are other means of prevention and it is no longer an incurable, inevitably terminal disease. Putting these children at such drastic risk for such a marginal gain is unjustifiable.”

 

The Guardian

About Falade Benjamine 2649 Articles
Ben is an editor and a professional graphic designer at Ogene247.com. He specializes in developing Information on Politics, Business, Entertainment Gossips and Sport. You can Contact him on olaben@ogene247.com

24 Comments

  1. Hi just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a
    few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

  2. hello!,I like your writing so a lot! share we keep in touch more
    approximately your post on AOL? I require an expert in this house to unravel
    my problem. May be that is you! Taking a look
    ahead to look you.

  3. Very nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve truly loved surfing around your weblog posts.
    In any case I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping
    you write once more very soon!

  4. I am extremely impressed together with your writing skills and also with the layout in your blog.
    Is this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway stay up the excellent high quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this
    one these days..

  5. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple
    ipad and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot
    drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is
    totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  6. Fantastic goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely
    great. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you’re saying
    and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining
    and you still take care of to keep it wise. I can’t wait to read much more from you.
    This is really a terrific site.

  7. I do like the manner in which you have presented this challenge and it does provide us some fodder for consideration. However, coming from everything that I have observed, I basically trust when the responses stack on that people today keep on point and in no way embark upon a tirade regarding the news du jour. Anyway, thank you for this superb point and while I can not agree with this in totality, I value the viewpoint.

  8. I do enjoy the way you have framed this situation and it really does provide me personally some fodder for consideration. Nevertheless, coming from what I have observed, I just hope as other responses pack on that individuals keep on point and don’t get started on a tirade involving the news of the day. Still, thank you for this excellent piece and whilst I do not really go along with the idea in totality, I value your point of view.

  9. I would like to thnkx for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade blog post from you in the upcoming as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings quickly. Your write up is a good example of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.