Controversies and doubts, this is the reaction to the announcement that a Chinese scientist would have created the first genetically modified babies in the world to be resistant to certain diseases using the technique of genetic editing. CRISPR.
The controversy began when specialized publications like the American magazine MIT Technology Review echoed the study of scientist He Jiankui, who began broadcasting videos on Youtube yesterday. He claimed to have modified the genes of the twins.
According to the Chinese researcher, the girls, Lulu and Nana, "were born healthy a few weeks ago", thanks to in vitro fertilization with genetic modification technology. "This will prevent them from becoming infected with HIV."
In these videos, he claims to have used the CRISPR / Cas9 technique and justifies the experience indicating that genetic modification "It does not aim to eliminate genetic diseases," but rather "give girls the natural ability to resist a possible future HIV infection."
To achieve its goal, I claim to have "turned off" the CCR5 gene, which forms a protein that allows HIV to enter a cell and, in practice, supposes an improvement in DNA.
"I understand that my work is controversial, but I think families need this technology and I am willing to take criticism for them," he says in one of the videos.
However, the Southern Science and Technology University of Shenzhen City He challenged his teacher today in a statement and stressed that he was not even aware of this project.
The institution said it was "deeply shocked by the case" and asked that it, on leave since February this year, come as quickly as possible to give explanations.
"The University will convene international experts to investigate this incident, which is a serious violation of ethical and academic standards", said the institution about the project, which also raised doubts about its veracity, since so far has not been published in any scientific journal.
For its part, the Chinese press acknowledged today that the study has provoked controversy among academics and the public across the country.
The China Daily newspaper points to concerns "for ethical reasons and for its effectiveness"and reveals that the parents of both babies are people with HIV, quoting Bai Hua, head of Baihualin, a non-governmental organization that deals with people with this disease,
Meanwhile, more than 120 academics from the Chinese scientific community said in a statement on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that "any attempt" to make changes in human embryos through genetic modification is "crazy," and that giving birth to these babies carries "a high risk."
"The government needs to take swift legislative steps to rigorously oversee this research," Chinese scientists added.
The controversy also comes a day before researchers in this area begin an important meeting on genome modification, to be held November 27-29 in Hong Kong.
At the global level, the journal Nature also joined the debate today and in an article argues that the "indignation" between the international scientific community and that, if true, "This would represent a significant leap in the use of human genome modification."
"It's premature, dangerous and irresponsible," Joyce Harper, a researcher at University College London, told this publication.
"This experiment exposes normal, healthy children to risk without any real benefit needed," the magazine emphasizes.
Nature points out that this type of tool has only been used so far to study its benefit in eliminating disease-causing mutations, adding that the scientific community "has been asking for a long time" to create ethical guidelines long before a case as this would arise.
In 2016, a group of Chinese scientists became a pioneer in the use in humans, particularly in patients with lung cancer, the genetic modification technology CRISPR, as published by the journal Nature.
However, scientists in the UK have found that CRISPR gene-editing technology can cause more damage to cells than previously believed, according to a study published this year by the same journal.