A Chinese researcher claims that he helped create the world’s first genetically edited baby, a twin girl born this month, who said he has changed a powerful new tool that can rewrite the blueprint for life.
If this is true, it will be a profound leap in science and ethics.
An American scientist said that he is involved in China’s work, but this genetic editing is banned in the United States because DNA changes can be passed on to future generations and may harm other genes.
Many mainstream scientists believe that attempts are too unsafe, and some people condemn China’s report as a human experiment.
Researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen said that he changed the embryos of seven couples during fertility treatment and has been pregnant so far. He said that his goal is not to cure or prevent hereditary diseases, but to try to give people a very talented character – this ability can resist HIV that may be infected with HIV in the future.
He said that the parents involved refused to be confirmed or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where they work.
There is no independent confirmation of his claim, and it is not published in the journal, where it will be reviewed by other experts. He revealed in one of the organizers of the International Conference on Gene Editing in Hong Kong on Monday, and earlier accepted an exclusive interview with the Associated Press.
He told the Associated Press: “I feel responsible, not only to do one, but also to be an example.” In allowing or prohibiting such science, “the society will decide what to do next.”
Some scientists are shocked by this statement and strongly condemn it.
Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a genetic editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of the journal Genetics, said that this is “unreasonable… humans have no defensive experiments morally or morally.”
“This is too immature,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research and Transformation Institute in California. “We are dealing with a person’s operating instructions. This is a big problem.”
However, a well-known geneticist, the George Church at Harvard University, defended the genetic editing of HIV, which he called “a major, growing public health threat.”
“I think this is reasonable,” Church said of the goal.
In recent years, scientists have discovered a relatively simple way to edit genes, the DNA chain that controls the body. The tool, called CRISPR-cas9, can manipulate DNA to provide the desired genes or to disable the genes that cause the problem.
It has only recently been used by adults to treat deadly diseases, and this change is limited to that person. Edit sperm, egg or embryo is different – changes can be inherited. In the United States, this is not allowed except for laboratory research. China prohibits human cloning, but it is not especially genetic editing.
He is a “JK” HEH JEE’-an-qway studying at Rice and Stanford University in the United States, and then returned to the motherland to open a laboratory at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. He also has two genetic companies.
The American scientist who worked with him after he returned to China was Michael Deem, a professor of physics and bioengineering. He was a consultant to Houston Rice. Deem also owns what he calls “small shares” – and is the scientific advisory board of his two companies.
The Chinese researcher said he practiced editing mouse, monkey and human embryos in the lab for several years and applied for his method patent.
He said he chose embryonic gene editing for HIV because these infections are a big problem in China. He tried to ban a gene called CCR5, which forms a protein gate that allows HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) to enter cells.
He said that all men in the project have HIV, not all women, but the purpose of genetic editing is not to prevent the risk of transmission. Father’s infection is severely inhibited by standard HIV drugs, and there are simple ways to prevent them from infecting offspring that do not involve altered genes.
Instead, the appeal is to provide an opportunity for couples affected by HIV to protect their children from similar fates.
He recruited a couple through a Beijing AIDS advocacy organization called Baihualin. The leader, known as Baihua, told the Associated Press that it is not uncommon for people living with HIV to lose their jobs or get medical services if they find an infection.
Here’s how he describes his work:
Genetic editing occurs during IVF or laboratory culture fertilization. First, the sperm is “washed” to separate it from the semen, a liquid that HIV may lurk. A single sperm is placed in a single egg to produce an embryo. Then add the gene editing tool.
When the embryo is 3 to 5 days old, remove some cells and check for editing. Couples can choose whether to use an edited or unedited embryo for a pregnancy attempt. A total of 16 of the 22 embryos were edited, and six embryos were used for six implant attempts before completing the twin pregnancy, he said.
He said trials have shown that a pair of twins have two copies of the expected genetic alteration, and only one pair of twins has been altered, and there is no evidence that it is harmful to other genes. People with a copy of the gene can still be infected with HIV, although some very limited studies suggest that their health may decline more slowly.
Some scientists reviewed the materials he provided to the Associated Press and said that so far the test was not enough to say editorial work or to exclude harm.
They also noted evidence that the editing was incomplete and that at least one pair of twins appeared to be patchwork of cells with various changes.
Church said, “It’s almost like no editing,” if only some cells are changed, because HIV infection still occurs.
Church and Musunuru questioned the decision to allow one of the embryos to be used for pregnancy, as Chinese researchers said they knew in advance that both copies of the expected gene had not been altered.
Musunuru said: “In that child, there is little to gain in preventing HIV, but you have to expose that child to all unknown security risks.”
The use of the embryo indicates that the researchers’ main focus is on testing editors rather than avoiding the disease,” Church said.
Even if the editorial work is perfect, people without the normal CCR5 gene are at higher risk of acquiring certain other viruses (such as the West Nile) and dying from the flu. Musunuru said that because there are many ways to prevent HIV infection, if this happens, it is very treatable and those other medical risks are a problem.
There are also questions about his way of saying that he is moving on. On November 8, he officially informed him of his work after he began telling about his work at the Clinical Trial Registry in China.
It is unclear whether participants fully understand the purpose and potential risks and benefits. For example, the consent form stated that the project was an “AIDS Vaccine Development” program.
Rice scientist Deem said that when potential participants agree and he “absolutely” thinks they can understand the risks, he is in China.
Deem said he worked with Lai’s vaccine research and thought that genetic editing is similar to vaccines.
“This may be the way a layman describes it,” he said.
Both men are physicists and have no experience in conducting human clinical trials.
Chinese scientist Mr. He said that he personally defined the goal and told the participants that the embryonic gene editor had never tried it and there was a risk. He said he will also provide insurance for any children conceived through the project and plan medical follow-up until the child reaches the age of 18, and if they are adults, they will be longer.
Further pregnancy attempts were shelved until the analysis of this safety and the experts in the field weighed, but the participants did not inform them in advance that they might not have the opportunity to try what they registered after the “first” implementation, he admitted. Free fertility treatment is part of the transaction they offer.
He sought and obtained approval from the Harmonicare Women and Children’s Hospital in Shenzhen, which is not one of the four hospitals he said to provide embryos for his research or pregnancy trials.
Some staff in some other hospitals knew nothing about the nature of the study, and He and Deem said it was done to prevent some participants from being infected with HIV.
“We think this is ethical,” said the director of the Ethics Committee, Harmonicare, Lin Zhixi.
He said that any medical staff who handle samples that may contain HIV knows. Qin Jinzhou, an embryologist at his laboratory, confirmed to the Associated Press that he had done sperm cleaning and injected genetic editing tools into some pregnancy attempts.
Research participants are not ethicists, he said, but “have the same authority in terms of right and wrong, because this is their life.”
“I believe this will help the family and its children,” he said. If it causes unnecessary side effects or harm, “I will feel the same pain as them, it will be my own responsibility.”