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China is waiting for the third genetically modified baby in questions of CRISPR ethics



Dr. William Hurlbut, Paul Dabrowski and dr. Samarth Kulkarni during a panel discussion on "Genetics, CRISPR and Medical Ethics" at the CNBC Healthy Returns Conference on May 21, 2019 in New York.

Astrid Stawiarz | CNBC

After a Chinese scientist had made history with CRISPR technology last year to genetically alter two newborns, the scientific community now has a hard time dealing with the ethics of human germline processing, as soon as another woman with a human being treated baby will be pregnant.

"We as a species have to deal with it," Dr. William Hurlbut, a senior neurobiology scientist at Stanford Medical School, on Tuesday at CNBC's Healthy Return Conference in New York. "For the first time in the history of our lives, we can influence the future of our evolution."

CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene-editing tool that has been touted as a breakthrough technology that allows scientists to treat or even cure genetic diseases. The technology gives researchers the ability to alter the DNA of an organism to remove or alter certain genetic material.

Although praised for its potential to cure disease, it has raised serious ethical issues in science regarding embryonic DNA processing.

When Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed in 201

8 that he helped create the first genetically-engineered babies – a series of twin girls born with DNA he changed – it drew the wrath of scientists around the world on yourself. They raised concerns about passing DNA changes on to future generations and damaging other genes. He said he had processed the CCR5 gene in the babies to prevent them from becoming infected with HIV in the future.

This year, a third baby is to be born with a processed CCR5 gene.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Tuesday that his research was a "horrific experiment and established a terrible precedent". Gottlieb said his experiment had the risk of making people "rightfully" turn away from science.

Gottlieb said that he has not yet seen any convincing arguments for dealing with the human germline.

Paul Dabrowski, CEO of Synthego, a genome engineer company, agreed that the scientific community is not yet ready to work on the germ line. He wondered if it would be ethical to allow parents to genetically modify their future children if they were not the ones whose DNA was changed.

"How do you ensure that you can match the person who agrees and the person who takes the risk?" Asked Dabrowski.

Stanford's Hurlbut said there were risks to DNA processing as these traits could then be passed on to future generations. Editing certain genes can also lead to changes in other genes, according to Hurlbut.

"We want to be very careful, nature is a profound balance, and unless we intervene profoundly, we can mess things up," said Hurlbut.

Dr. Samarth Kulkarni, CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, said on Tuesday that he was "a bit unhappy".

"I think science is not there on many levels to support the germline processing " Kulkarni said.

Dr. Samarth Kulkarni during a panel discussion on "Genetics, CRISPR and Medical Ethics" at the CNBC Healthy Returns Conference on May 21, 2019 in New York.

Astrid Stawiarz | CNBC

Kulkarni said his experiment left a "cloud" above the genetic editing field, even though regulators knew his experiment was an exception in the gene editing community. Kulkarni said the incident did not have much of an impact on CRISPR Therapeutics' business.

Kulkarni said that the "only reason for this unfortunate incident" is that he has drawn attention to the other advances that scientists are making with genetic engineering. CRISPR Therapeutics announced in February that it is treating a patient with sickle cell disease with gene therapy haematopoietic stem cell therapy. The company also wants to use the technology for the potential treatment of cancer patients.

CRISPR Therapeutics does not do any germline gene processing, the company uses only CRISPR technology to treat genetic disorders, Kulkarni said.

Even if the scientific community agrees Now, according to Dabrowski and Kulkarni, the future for CRISPR technology is not yet the time of genetic embryonic processing.

The CEOs said the technology has the potential to cure hundreds of genetic disorders in their lives.

"CRISPR is here to stay …," Kulkarni said. "The technology itself is becoming a mainstay."


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