China suspends research on gene-edited babies

The Chinese government halted work by He Jiankui, who have created the world’s first genetically edited humans. Jiankui’s breakthrough was suspended after it was declared that his conduct appeared to be unethical and in violation of the law.

Earlier this week, the scientist released a statement on YouTube, saying that he had successfully altered embryos which he implanted in the womb of a woman. This month she gave birth to the gene-edited twin girls – Lulu and Nana.

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Thoughts? Proving that all scientists are not #Technocrats, many have condemned He Jiankui for introducing gene modifications into the human germline, meaning his changes will perpetuate to succeeding generations. A #Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world’s first #geneticallyeditedbabies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life. If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics. A U.S. scientist said he took part in the work in #China, but this kind of gene editing is banned in the #UnitedStates because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes. Many mainstream scientists think it’s too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as #humanexperimentation. The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus 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, the AIDS virus. 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 Monday in #HongKong to one of the organizers of an international conference on gene editing that is set to begin Tuesday, and earlier in exclusive 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 told the AP. “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 #UniversityofPennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal. 🖐🏾More In comments👇🏾#DesignerBabies

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The powerful tool ‘CRISPR’ that allows parts of DNA to be replaced, was considered not ready to be used on human embryos for safety reasons. However, he used the technique to modify a certain gene, in embryos created by couples with HIV positive males. The procedure was presented as HIV vaccine trial since the edited gene was a doorway to the virus.

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Chinese regulations have not kept pace with He’s development. There is only one regulation from ‘ethics guidance’, concerning the topic but no specified punishment for this kind of violation exists. The Guardian reported that during an international conference in Hong Kong, the organizing committee said: “Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms. Its flaws include an inadequate medical indication, a poorly designed study protocol, a failure to meet ethical standards for protecting the welfare of research subjects, and a lack of transparency in the development, review, and conduct of the clinical procedures.” According to the New York Times, He Jiankui defended himself at the global summit, asserting that he was proud of what he had done.

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Thoughts? A #Chinese researcher who claims to have helped make the world’s first #geneticallyeditedbabies says a second pregnancy may be underway. The researcher, He Jiankui of #Shenzhen, revealed the pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an international conference in #HongKong. He claims to have altered the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month to try to make them resistant to infection with the #AIDS virus. Mainstream scientists have condemned the experiment, and universities and government groups are investigating. The second pregnancy is in a very early stage and needs more time to be monitored to see if it will last, He said. Leading scientists said there are now even more reasons to worry, and more questions than answers, after He’s talk. The leader of the conference called the experiment “irresponsible” and evidence that the scientific community had failed to regulate itself to prevent premature efforts to alter DNA. Altering DNA before or at the time of conception is highly controversial because the changes can be inherited and might harm other genes. It’s banned in some countries including the #UnitedStates except for lab research. He defended his choice of #HIV, rather than a fatal inherited disease, as a test case for gene editing, and insisted the girls could benefit from it. “They need this protection since a vaccine is not available,” He said. Scientists weren’t buying it. “This is a truly unacceptable development,” said #JenniferDoudna, a #UniversityofCaliforniaBerkeley scientist and one of the inventors of the #CRISPR gene-editing tool that He said he used. “I’m grateful that he appeared today, but I don’t think that we heard answers. We still need to understand the motivation for this.” “I feel more disturbed now,” said David Liu of #Harvard and MIT’s #BroadInstitute, and inventor of a variation of the gene-editing tool. “It’s an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society. I hope it never happens again.” 🖐🏾More in comments👇🏾#Transhumanism #BioHacking #DesignerBabies #NurembergTrials #HumanExperimentation

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Xu Nanping, China’s vice minister of science and technology, said the case was still being investigated. His ministry is strongly against the research and described the experiment as ‘illegal and unacceptable’, according to the AP.


Words: Tsvetelina Petrova | Subbing: Peony Hirwani