Chinese baby-gene editing scientist 'proud of his work'

Faith Castro
November 29, 2018

"If this. process is ultimately determined to be safe, why wouldn't we want to do this?" she said. "I think it's very important that we move forward carefully and in a transparent manner".

"We're so not there yet", Maddison said. He stressed that Catholics do not need to automatically consider all gene editing to be problematic, but "need to be attentive to where the dangers are".

He's work was never a question of how. Some have called He's work illegal, but while human cloning is illegal in China, gene editing isn't.

One of the primary concerns with editing genomes at the embryo level is the long-term impact on both the humans in question and their offspring who will inherit the modified genes.

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have laws that prevent the use of genome editing in embryos for assisted reproduction in humans.

CRISPR is a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit sections of DNA.

"I call (the guide RNA) the ZIP code director: It recognizes a specific region of DNA, so you can direct the Cas9 protein - which cuts DNA - to a specific point in the genome", she said.

"I feel proudest", He said, when challenged by several peers at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong. He, the statement says, has been on unpaid leave from the university.

However, Robin Lovell-Badge, the forum moderator and a senior group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, pointed out to He that a different study had been done showing that adjustment of the CCR5 gene enhanced cognitive abilities. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, The Associated Press reported.

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Many scientists have condemned his announcement.

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.

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.

In a panel discussion following He's talk, the scientist was asked whether enough is known about CCR5 and its effects on the immune system to choose it as the first gene to manipulate at the embryonic level.

"These results leaked unexpectedly", which meant the full data could not get its first presentation in a scientific venue, He said. "This is not just for this case, but for millions of children".

Today's medications have turned HIV from a death sentence into a manageable disease in much of the world, but He said he chose that gene because HIV remains a big problem in China. "He had relapsing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and received two stem cell transplants from the same donor who did not possess the CCR5 co-receptor".

But as sceptical experts cast doubt over the claimed breakthrough, his research came under fire on a number of other fronts too. Attendees pressed him on whether his team acted ethically while obtaining consent from the trial participants, on how he could prove the test's effectiveness while maintaining its subjects' anonymity and on what his ongoing responsibility is to the innovative new babies.

"It's a huge question on what did the parents know", Maddison said. All had fathers with well-controlled HIV and mothers who were not infected.

"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they made a decision to implant", he said.

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