Friday, 22 February, 2019


Scientists line up to take aim at research behind gene-edited babies

China stops work on gene-edited babies Scientists line up to take aim at research behind gene-edited babies
Patty Aguilar | 02 December, 2018, 14:57

"I think all of us are wondering about the role of Michael Deem", Collins told STAT, "who by his description was present at the consenting of couples that took part in this gene-editing enterprise". The investigations came quickly in a country that has tended to be more open to using gene editing in human medicine than others.

It was unclear whether the pregnancy had ended or not.

He, according to Reuters, also shrugged off concerns that the research was conducted in secrecy, explaining that he had engaged the scientific community over the past three years.

He said his study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal. University officials said they had no knowledge of his research and had launched an investigation.

The Chinese researcher said he edited a gene of a human embryo, later implanted into a woman who gave birth to the twins, one of whom is HIV immune.

Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of science and technology, said Tuesday that the Chinese government had issued regulations in 2003 that permitted gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remain viable no more than 14 days, according to the state broadcaster China Central Television. 122 Chinese scientists have apparently put out a statement condemning the work and saying that it will damage China's reputation for responsible research in this field (a reputation that, contrary to what is sometimes asserted, is largely justified).

Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, who moderated the Wednesday session, said in an email that "it would have been hard to have sufficient security" for a second talk.

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

Eight volunteer couples - HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - signed up to He's trial, with one dropping out before it was put on hold. 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. On Wednesday, under questioning from scientists after his talk, He said there had been a second implantation in an early stage.

At the conference, He failed or refused to answer many questions including who paid for his work, how he ensured that participants understood potential risks and benefits, and why he kept his work secret until after it was done.

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. "Only found out about it after it happened and the children were born", Baltimore said.

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

He and his team allegedly disabled a gene which makes a protein that makes it possible for HIV to infect people's cells, potentially making these babies resistant to HIV.

In its statement, the committee said gene editing "remains irresponsible at this time" since it could produce harmful unintended effects for the individuals born from such embryos, as well as their offspring.

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