|▶Why Is Gene Editing in Dispute? (2019-01-18)|
A Chinese researcher’s claim of creating the world’s first genetically edited babies is considered “irresponsible” by many scientists.
The researcher’s employer, Southern University of Science and Technology of China, said it did not know about the activities. China’s government ordered a halt to the work on Thursday.
The researcher, He Jiankui, said he had edited the genetic material, or DNA, of two girls born recently. He said he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from infection with HIV, the virus responsible for the disease AIDS. He said the process had “worked safely” and the two girls were “as healthy as any other babies.”
There has been no independent confirmation of He’s work, and he did not provide written documentation of his research.
On Wednesday, He defended his work at an international conference in Hong Kong. He also announced a possible second pregnancy using the same process.
Scientists have been quick to condemn the experiments.
David Baltimore is with the California Institute of Technology and a leader of the conference. He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1975. He called the experiment “irresponsible.” Baltimore said it did not meet the guidelines many scientists have agreed on before gene editing could be considered.
Jennifer Doudna is a University of California-Berkeley scientist and one of the inventors of the CRISPR gene-editing tool used in the experiment. She called it “truly unacceptable.” She told the Associated Press, “I don’t think that we heard answers. We still need to understand the motivation for this.”
In 2017, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report about human gene editing. The group said gene editing should be used for research only in a laboratory to learn how to change embryos.
The Academies also said the measure is not ready for human pregnancies. And if it is ever permitted, it should be used to treat or prevent serious diseases with no better choices available.
Federal money cannot be used for gene editing of human embryos in the United States. Other countries also have restrictions.
People who oppose such experiments say changes to a person’s DNA can pass to future generations. They say gene editing risks harming other genes and affects people who did not accept the treatment.
Others fear that the experiment will lead rich parents to seek genetic improvement to produce, what are called, “designer babies.”
[December 02, 2018]