'MONSTROUS' scientist 'makes world's first gene-edited babies' in HIV test

'MONSTROUS' scientist 'makes world's first gene-edited babies' in HIV test

By editing this tag, scientists are able to target the enzyme to specific regions of DNA and make precise cuts, wherever they like. However, while it would be a remarkable achievement, there's no way of knowing whether or not He's claims hold water.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui (JEE-ahn-qway) spoke earlier at the conference in Hong Kong about the work he said led to the births this month.

In videos posted online this week, He said he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born this month.

His work has not been published in a journal to be examined by other scientists.

The reaction from much of the scientific community was one of shock.

On top of that already shaky foundation, TechCrunch now reports that the hospital He claims to have been working with during his gene editing adventure is denying any knowledge of his work. Unconventionally, he made the announcement at an global gene editing conference and in interviews with the Associated Press. It's banned in some countries including the United States.

"I think this just shows the time is now that you have to talk about the ethics of genome editing, because the world may not wait", said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.

Rice University, where Michael Deem is employed, has also said they will investigate.

"It is essential that this report not cast an untoward shadow on the many important ongoing and planned clinical efforts to use CRISPR technology to treat and cure existing genetic, infectious and common disease in adults and in children", she said. This is because the CCR5 gene that He disabled plays an important role in resistance to these diseases.

A US scientist said he took part in the work in China, but this kind of gene editing is banned in the United States because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes.

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In addition, Zhang said that in 2015, "the worldwide research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.' (This was the consensus statement from the 2015 worldwide Summit on Human Gene Editing.) It is my hope that this year's summit will serve as a forum for deeper conversations about the implications of this news and provide guidance on how we as a global society can best benefit from gene editing".

On Monday, more than 120 scholars from prestigious universities and institutes from China and overseas such as Tsinghua University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology strongly condemned the research in a signed statement, saying it lacks effective ethics oversight and amounts to human experiments. In a statement, the university said it was unaware of his work, emphasizing that it was not conducted on campus. The tool, called CRISPR-cas9, makes it possible to operate on DNA to supply a needed gene or disable one that's causing problems. Immediately after the 2016 experiment, the scientists destroyed the embryos, saying more research will be required before modified embryos can be implanted in a mother's womb.

The couples were offered the choice to use edited or unedited embryos in the pregnancy attempts that followed. When he saw He four or five weeks ago, He did not say he had tried or achieved pregnancy with edited embryos but "I strongly suspected" it, Hurlbut said.

"I don't think it has been a transparent process", Baltimore added, condemning "a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community".

He revealed that the twin girls - known as "Lulu" and "Nana" - were "born normal and healthy", adding that there were plans to monitor the twins over the next 18 years.

But several scientists say there are other ways to prevent HIV transmission to embryos, such such as washing sperm.

Yet many scientists say the experiment was premature and the potential benefits not worth the risk. In this study, CCR5, a gene used to make a protein HIV needs to enter cells, was disabled in the twins' DNA, an edit which effectively shuts off the "gateway" through which the virus infects the body.

"I understand my work will be controversial", he said.

He's research focuses on genome sequencing technology, bioinformatics and genome editing, according to his biography on the summit's website.

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