'I feel proudest', says Chinese scientist who genetically modified children

A microplate containing embryos that have been injected with CRISPR-Cas9 in a laboratory of Chinese scientist He Jiankui.									Mark Schiefelbein  AP

The researcher in question, He Jianku, said he is affiliated with Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, and is the lead scientist on the project.

As has been the case with many gene-editing efforts and research in the past, a huge portion of the medical and scientific research community is already condemning He's work (if it was indeed performed as he claims) as being far too risky an unethical. And He's university issued a statement saying it has launched an investigation into the research, which it says may "seriously violate academic ethics and academic norms".

The MIT Technology Review warned "the technology is ethically charged".

In this regard it is heartwarming to have Feng Zhang call for a moratorium on implantation of edited embryos and remind his scientific colleagues that "in 2015, the global research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application'". He worked with seven heterosexual couples in which the male partner was HIV positive and the women were HIV negative. This means that the second twin could still become infected with HIV.

He says he used gene editing to make babies resistant to infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Gene editing for this group might be life-saving; for these current babies, it is only life-risking.

If confirmed, the births would signify the first gene-edited babies in human history-a stunning development that's sparking an outcry from scientists and ethicists. Organizers of the conference told reporters at a pre-event briefing they were awaiting further details. He revealed how he modified the twins' DNA using CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision. He says his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease but to disable a gene, called CCR5, that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV to infect a cell.

They urged the Chinese government to impose clear regulations quickly.

Mr. He made his announcement Sunday in a YouTube video. Many scientists working in genetics say they believe such experimentation is risky.

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

The particular method used is common in lab research but not precise or controlled enough for embryos, said Columbia University cell biologist Dietrich Egli, who called it "essentially genome vandalism". The experiment showed that someday it might be possible to deliberately endow human DNA with this desirable mutation-the key word being "someday". "Hopefully these kids will not have any health problems", he says.

This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit. He told The Associated Press, adding that "society will decide what to do next".

Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, helped discover CRISPR and served as a creator for the summit.

If parents were given the choice of implanting either edited or unedited embryos, and if they were adequately informed about the risks of using CRISPR technology, then that is where decisions about the ethics of using this technology should properly rest.

In 2017, the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine said lab-only research to learn how to alter embryos is ethical - but said it's not ready for pregnancies yet.

In addition, Zhang said that in 2015, "the worldwide research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.' (This was the consensus statement from the 2015 worldwide Summit on Human Gene Editing.) It is my hope that this year's summit will serve as a forum for deeper conversations about the implications of this news and provide guidance on how we as a global society can best benefit from gene editing".

Notre Dame Law School professor O. Carter Snead, a former presidential adviser on bioethics, called the report "deeply troubling, if true".

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