Chinese Scientist Creates Genetically Modified HIV-Resistant Babies



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He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claimed to have led an effort to edit human genes.
He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claimed to have led an effort to edit human genes.

British scientists have condemned a "monstrous" experiment that would have created the world's first genetically edited babies in China.

The Doctor. He Jiankui said it made twins unable to be infected with HIV by deactivating the CCR5 gene, which allows the deadly virus to enter human cells.

He claims to have done this on two girls, named Nana and Lulu, who were born in China a few weeks ago, although the research has not been published or independently verified.

Doing so on live babies is illegal in many countries, including the UK, where scientists and ethics experts accuse the "highly irresponsible, unethical and dangerous" science researcher, similar to "Russian genetic roulette."

People without the CCR5 gene may be protected from HIV, but are at higher risk of contracting other viruses, including the hepatitis B virus and West Nile virus, in addition to dying of the flu.

Experts say genetic editing also puts babies at higher risk for serious birth defects and cancer.

Dr. He of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen has recruited HIV-positive men and their partners for fertility treatment, offering to protect their children from the virus. The chances of a father transmitting HIV are close to zero when the mother is not infected.

The couples received fertility treatment with the CRISPR-Cas9 genetically engineered protein injected into the mother's egg with spermatozoa. This works like molecular scissors to "cut out" the CCR5 gene that activates a protein to allow HIV to enter cells.

He said that 16 of the 22 embryos were edited, and 11 were used in six attempts at IVF before a woman became pregnant with her twins.

The experiment of dr. He, unveiled before an international gene editing conference in Hong Kong, was described as "monstrous" by Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at Oxford University.

He said: "It would run counter to decades of ethical consensus and guidelines on the protection of human participants in research. In many other places in the world this would be illegal, punished with imprisonment.

"These healthy babies are being used as genetic guinea pigs. This is Russian roulette.

Dr Dusko Ilic of the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine at King's College London said: "These people must face criminal trial – they were experimenting with children's lives with no reason to do so.

"Gene-editing technology is not perfect and … can cause birth defects, spina bifida to learning disabilities, and can create genetic diseases we've never heard of before."

The fear about gene editing is that CRISPR-Cas9, made up of a homing molecule and a "scissors" protein to cut DNA, can focus on the wrong part, increasing the risk of other diseases by introducing genetic mutations.

However, Dr. He's team claimed that the cells removed from the resulting embryos, and the babies when they were born, show that gene editing worked safely.

Daily Mail

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