Rogue Scientist Who Created Genetically Modified Babies Defends Controversial Work

02 December, 2018, 14:52 | Author: Jared Lewis
  • China stops work on gene-edited babies

The Chinese government has ordered an "immediate investigation" into claims that researchers have created the world's first genetically engineered human babies.

Now with this news, all eyes will be on the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing taking place this week in Hong Kong.

"I feel more disturbed now", said David Liu of Harvard and MIT's Broad Institute, and inventor of a variation of the gene-editing tool. Plus, lacking CCR5 also makes people more vulnerable to severe reactions or even death from other viruses, potentially including the flu, which is far more common than HIV, Musunuru says. However, his work has not been verified.

At this summit we heard an unexpected and deeply disturbing claim that human embryos had been edited and implanted, resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of twins.

He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, had said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments.

He said he had funded the experiment himself and confirmed his university had not been aware of it. It is not clear where He did the research or with what funding; his university says that the research was not conducted there and had no official approval, and that He and his colleagues have been suspended without pay.

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He admitted at a gene-editing conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday he had already initiated another pregnancy, although it was too soon to tell if it would go to full term.

The twin girls, identified by the aliases Lulu and Nana to hide their identities, were said to have been born a few weeks ago in a hospital in Shenzhen, southern China. Eight couples had enrolled in the study while one dropped out, and the criteria was that the father be HIV positive and the mother be HIV negative.

He said his study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal.

But he apologised that his research "was leaked unexpectedly", and added: "The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation". On Thursday, the Chinese government ordered to stop the work.

Why is it this controversial? He made his first public comments about his claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies.

It works by using "molecular scissors" to alter a very specific strand of DNA - either cutting it out, replacing it or tweaking it.

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He's claims has set off a firestorm of skepticism and criticism.

Hundreds of Chinese scientists also signed a letter on social media condemning the research, saying they were "resolutely" opposed to it. "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", Julian Savulescu, an ethics expert at the University of Oxford, told the BBC.

He's research focuses on genome sequencing technology, bioinformatics and genome editing.

According to the New York Times, Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of science and technology, said He's work was still being investigated, but based on news reports, he said, He appeared to have "blatantly violated China's relevant laws and regulations" and broken "the bottom line of morality and ethics that the academic community adheres to".

China allows in-vitro human embryonic stem cell research for a maximum period of 14 days, Mr Xu said.

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