HONG KONG (AP) – Early last year, a lesser-known Chinese researcher turned up at an elite meeting in Berkeley, California, where scientists and ethicists discussed a technology that had rocked the field to the brink – an emerging tool for the "Processing" of genes, the DNA strands that make up the life plan.
The young scientist, He Jiankui, recognized the power of this tool, called CRISPR, to transform not only genes but also his own career. 19659002] While visiting the United States, he sought out CRISPR pioneers such as Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Matthew Porteus of Stanford University and great thinkers about his dedication, such as the Stanford Ethic Dr. William Hurlbut. Last week, these shocked researchers watched him hijack an international conference with a staggering assertion: He said he had helped to develop the world's first born babies, despite the clear scientific consensus on genetic changes to future ones Generations could be passed on, should not be tried at this point.
US. The director of the National Institute of Health, Francis Collins, called Er's experiment "a mishap of great importance" ̵
But no one stopped him How can that be?
To be fair, scientists say there is no sure way to stop someone from engaging in DNA, no matter what the laws or standards are is cheap and easy to use – so scientists almost began to fear that this would happen once the technology was invented.
There is a long history in science and medicine of researchers who start experiments prematurely with contempt or horror Some of these have led to common practices today, such as in vitro fertilization.
Gene editing for reproductive purposes is in the US SA and most European countries banned. In China, ministerial guidelines prohibit the study of embryos that "violate ethical or moral principles."
It turned out that he did not know his goals exactly. He sought international experts at the Stanford and Rice universities where he graduated and sought advice before and during the experiment.
Should scientists who knew of his plans have spoken up? Could they have stopped him?
The answers are not clear.
"It does not fall into the category of legal responsibility, but ethical responsibility," said Collins. He said it was not like a scientist taking responsibility.
China's National Health Commission, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and its own university said they were in the dark and sentenced him ever since.
But three Stanford scientists – Hurlbut, Porteus, and his former scholarship adviser, Stephen Quake – had much contact with him in recent years. She and other scientists knew or suspected strongly that he intended to make genetically modified babies.
Some confidants did not believe that he would go through it; others expressed concerns that were never considered.
Stanford did not respond to an interview request.
Quake, a professor of bioengineering, was one of the first to learn of His ambition. Quake said he had met He over the years his former student was in town, and several years ago he entrusted his interest in reprocessing embryos for live births to make them resistant to the AIDS virus do.
Quake said He only gave general advice and encouraged him to speak with established scientists to choose situations in which there is agreement that the risks are justified to meet the highest ethical standards and its results in one of experts to publish a peer-reviewed journal.
"My advice was very broad," Quake said.
Hurlbut believes he met He in early 2017 when he and Doudna, co-inventors of CRISPR, held the first of three meetings with leading scientists and ethicists to discuss the technology. 19659002] "Somehow he ended up at our meeting," said Hurlbut.
Since then, he has returned to Stanford several times and Hurlbut said he "spent many hours" talking to him about situations in which the editing of genes might be appropriate.
F Five or five weeks ago, Hurlbut said he would see him again and discuss the processing of embryo genes to try to prevent HIV. Hurlbut said he suspected he was trying to implant a modified embryo in a woman's stomach.
"I admonished him," he said. "I did not light up his work in green. I challenged him to do that. I did not agree with what he did.
Porteus said he knew he had talked to Hurlbut and suspected that Hurlbut had discouraged the Chinese scientist. In February, he asked for a meeting with Porteus and told him that he had been given permission by a hospital ethics committee to move forward.
"I think he expected me to be more open-minded and I was very negative," Porteus said. "I was angry at his naivety, I was angry at his recklessness."
Porteus said he told him to "talk to your older Chinese counterparts."
After this discussion, "I heard nothing of him and assumed that he would not continue, "said Porteus. "In hindsight, I could have gotten a shimmer and cry."
In a draft article on the twin boys, which he wanted to submit to journals, he thanked the biophysicist Mark DeWitt of UC Berkeley for editing the manuscript. DeWitt said he had tried to dissuade him and denied that he had edited the newspaper. He said he had seen the newspaper, but the feedback he offered was "quite general."
He claims that his work has led to a second pregnancy, can not be independently confirmed, and that his work has not been published. He defended his actions last week at a gene editing summit in Hong Kong.
In contrast, another American scientist said that he not only encouraged He, but also played a major role in the project.
Michael Deem, Professor of Biotechnology at Rice Er and the university's doctoral advisor said he had worked with He since the scientist returned to China in 2012, and that he was a member of the advisory board and had a small stake in the two genes He company in Shenzhen. Deem defended his actions and said the research team had done earlier experiments on animals.
"We have several generations of animals that have been genetically engineered to produce viable progeny" and a lot of research on adverse effects on other genes, Deem said. Deem also said that he was present in China when some study participants gave their consent to embryo gene editing.
Rice said he has no knowledge of Deem's involvement and is now investigating.
So far, attention has focused on attention to regulatory gaps in China.
But that's not the whole story, said Rosario Isasi, an expert in genomics in the US and China at the University of Miami.
"We want to focus on how it happened and why it happened. and how it happened, "said Isasi. "How can we create a system that provides better transparency?"
There is no international regulatory authority to enforce bioethics rules, but scientific institutions and universities can use other tools.
"If anyone violates these rules, academics may refuse to publish magazines, employers may refuse to work, financiers may refuse to fund," said Hank Greely, professor of law and genetics in Stanford's act Universities will go into more detail about what's going on, and this incident will make everyone aware of related research. "
Of course, bad beginnings sometimes become better endpoints.
In 1980, Professor Martin Cline graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles for carrying out the first procedure sanctioned gene therapy to two women in Israel and Italy because he had not been given permission to try it at UCLA.
Cline announced his work instead of writing it in a scientific journal and was criticized because they "genetically engineered" human beings Hucht had its safety and effectiveness had not been proven in animals. Now, gene therapy is an established, if still quite new treatment method.
Two years earlier, in 1978, Dr. Ing. Robert Edwards similarly denounced as he announced through the press the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown. Later, the work received a Nobel Prize, and the IFV helped millions to a child.
This year, Louise Brown, mother of two sons who was received in an old-fashioned way, turned 40 years old.
___  Larson reported from Washington, DC
This series of Associated Press was produced in collaboration with the Department of Scientific Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The content is the sole responsibility of the AP.