Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

A second CRISPR pregnancy is already under way, claims rogue Chinese scientist

Dr He Jiankui who claims to have created the world's first genetically edited babies maintains he has not been secretive about his work Chinese Scientist Claims He's Created World's First Gene-Edited Babies - D-brief
Becky Salazar | 02 December, 2018, 14:53

More than 100 scientists, majority in China, have condemned as "crazy" and unethical altering human genes after a geneticist claimed he had changed the genes of twin girls to create the first gene-edited babies.

Geneticist He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, defended his work on Wednesday in front of a packed biomedical conference in Hong Kong, saying he had successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father.

He reportedly told participating couples that the worse-case scenario could be that the "gene scalpel" (CRISPR-Cas9 technique) missed its target: the CCR5 protein might not link with the main human HIV receptor, and hence the babies would not be immune to the virus. "I feel proudest", He said, when challenged by several peers.

It was unclear whether the pregnancy had ended or not.

"This study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review", he said.

He acknowledged he had not made his university in China aware of the research he was doing.

Mr. Xu had said earlier that Chinese regulations issued in 2003 permitted gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remained viable for no more than 14 days.

A project claiming to have produced the world's first gene-edited babies has been stopped by the Chinese government, which is declaring the work of scientist He Jiankui as being both unlawful and unethical, according to the Associated Press. Although his appearance had been previously scheduled, Lovell-Badge said He had earlier "sent me the slides he was going to show in this presentation and it didn't include anything that he is going to talk about today".

CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to essentially cut and paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease.

The conference was rocked by the Chinese researcher's claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies. Medical advances need to be openly discussed with patients, doctors, scientists and society, he said. Bioengineering Professor Michael Deem, who was the scientist's adviser when he studied in the USA, toldAP that he "absolutely" thinks the participants of the trials were fully aware of the risks involved. He said that all the participants had a "good education background" and went through two rounds of discussions with him and his team, according to Reuters.

The second pregnancy is in a very early stage and needs more time to be monitored to see if it will last, He said.

Consent: Many of the questions from attendees revolved around the consent process.

David Baltimore, President Emeritus and the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, spoke after He's speech, saying it was irresponsible to have proceeded until safety issues were in order. "When you balance the minimal benefit in terms of protection against HIV, compared to increased chance of dying from a fairly common infection like the flu, I don't think that works out on balance".

So far the tool has only been used on adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes only affected that person.

In a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Tuesday, the group said preliminary investigations indicated the signatures on the application form circulated on the internet are "suspected to have been forged, and no relevant meeting of the Medical Ethics Committee of the hospital in fact took place".

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