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Home / Health / The scientist, the twins, and the experiment claimed by the geneticists went too far

The scientist, the twins, and the experiment claimed by the geneticists went too far

In a video released on YouTube, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced to the world that he had successfully used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool to modify the DNA of two pre-birth embryos, essentially the created the first genetically modified humans in the world.

The news that took place on the eve of a high-profile scientific meeting in Hong Kong on the processing of human genes shocked the scientific community. "I see it as one of those moments that happen every few decades," said William Hurlbut, a senior research scholar at the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University Medical Center. "Where someone does something that changes the landscape so dramatically that the world will never be like that again."

Editing the DNA of human embryos to be delivered later has never been done before. With good reason, scientists say. The technology is still in its infancy and could lead to a variety of unknown genetic complications later in life.

Scientists have come to realize that the implantation of such an embryo is a limit that should not be exceeded until the risks are reduced or eliminated. "Nobody expected anyone to do this experiment on a human embryo," said Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of the gene editing technology CRISPR and member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to CNN. "The scientific community did not really know what was going on."

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He, Professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said he was "proud" of his work, which brought two supposedly healthy twin girls born out of embryos, changed to make them resistant to HIV. However, he was condemned by his colleagues and the experiment was described as "monstrous," "immoral," and "a big blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.

The fact that he was able to craft life-altering technologies from the eyes of the regulators and allegedly the university where he conducted the experiment raised serious ethical questions about the transparency of gene manipulation and triggered calls for a globally binding code of conduct.

The case also revisits China, a leader in genome editing and biotechnology, which has historically had a reputation for questioning ethical issues in favor of innovation.

However, deeper questions are asked as to whether this is the case. It is now inevitable that this technology will be used in the future.

"Humans have never had the power over our biology," said Hurlbut. "We are now in the era of germline gene technology."

  Chinese scientist He Jiankui in conversation with the head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute, Robin Lovell-Badge.

"A wake up call"

Ultimately, genome editing in one day is very promising for the treatment of disease, currently untreatable, such as sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis. Scientists at the second international summit on human genome on which he appeared on Wednesday overwhelmingly said that science must be made as effective and safe as possible – and that it would be "irresponsible" to have germ line processing in a clinical setting to use stage.

Germline gene editing refers to genetic changes in every cell that are passed on to future generations. This differs from the processing of genes for somatic (body) cells, whereby only existing cells are controlled and the changes made are not passed on to future offspring.

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Apart from ethical The scientists expressed concern that the gene "excised gene" CCR5 is of crucial importance for the human immune system, and the removal of this gene increases the risk of susceptibility to other diseases such as West Nile virus and influenza. Other critics pointed out that the procedure is not medically necessary because there are other treatments for HIV.

Changes to an embryo could also have unknown consequences that could be passed on to future generations.

It was obvious that he had not fully considered the potential long-term social impact on the twin girls. When a spectator at the summit asked if he was thinking about how the girls would see themselves and how they were treated by society, he replied, "I do not know how to answer that question."

The summit pointed out that his approach to the study was flawed from start to finish, in particular the way he had obtained parental consent – a process that only took two sessions, a total of three hours lasted and without an independent third party partners explain the risks and benefits properly.

His research has led scientists to call for greater transparency and a form of global governance in this area.

"The scientific community has failed to self-regulate for lack of transparency," said conference chairman and Nobel laureate David Baltimore on Wednesday.

"A Gold Rush on New Knowledge"

That the announcement of the world's first genetically-engineered babies came out of China may not be surprising.

Chinese scientists have made many initial breakthroughs in the genome world, including the first CRISPR-edited monkeys, the first use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 in humans, and the first reported use of gene editing technology to modify one Non-Viable Human Embryos

China has also pumped huge amounts of government funds into gene-editing technology to attract leading Chinese scientists living abroad, as well as foreigners who view the country as fertile ground for this type of research. 19659005] Chinese scientists use human gene editing techniques for the first time "data-src-mini =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-small-169 .jpg "data-src-xsmall =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-medium-plus-169.jpg "data-src-small = "http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-large-169.jpg" data-src-medium = "// cdn.cnn.com/ cnnnext / dam / assets / 160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-exlarge-169.jpg "data-src-large =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9 -explainer-natpkg-00010203-super-169.jpg "data-src-full16x9 =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-full-169. jpg "data-src-mini1x1 =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/160427132241-crispr-cas9-explainer-natpkg-00010203-small-11.jpg "data-demand-load =" not loaded "data-eq-pts =" mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, med ium: 461, large: 781 "src =" data: image / gif; base64, R0lGODlhEAAJEAAAAAP ///////wAAACH5BAEAAAIALAAAAAQAAkAAAlIlI + py + 0Po5yUFQA7 "/>

"I think right now China is much more driven, it motivates its scientists to move faster and become bolder, and that shows," said Victor J. Dzau , President of the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Medicine.

Last year, China issued a record of 1.76 trillion yuan ($ 254 billion) in research and development, and the country is catching up with US investment in the area, fueling a genetic arms race called " Sputnik 2.0 "was named" by Dr. Carl June, a specialist in immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania.
And Chinese regulators seem to be more open to the new technology than their American counterparts at the end of February 2018, there were nine registered clinical trials , where CRISPR-treated cells were tested in China for the treatment of various cancers and HIV infections, Goldman Sachs analysis in April compared to the US in the US, after the Food and Drug Administration became the first in the US in October Human CRISPR study had stopped.

"It is clear that this is the new frontier," said Hervé Chneiweiss from the French Center National de la Recherche Scientifique. "It's clearly the gold rush of any new knowledge that could be translated into new treatments."

Many of these treatments exist in a legal gray area. Currently each country has its own rules and regulations for the processing of genes. In China, there are several loosely worded regulations that restrict experimental science, including regulations for embryo research. A 2003 directive to in-vitro clinics of the Chinese Ministry of Health banned "clinical experiments" that "violated ethical or moral principles".

"The problem is that no penalties are imposed" if the policies are violated, Renzong Qiu said of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

To show the world that China adheres to ethical standards, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Xu Nanping, said on Thursday that he had "carelessly violated Chinese law" and regulations and violated the result of Science ethics.

Both the hospital mentioned in He's ethical approval documents and the university with which he is affiliated refuse to participate in the proceedings, and in a joint statement on Monday, more than 120 Chinese scientists condemned the research and said that "direct human experimentation is nothing more than crazy."

"There is a misunderstanding that advances in research must necessarily be more flexible in terms of regulation," said David R. Liu, professor of chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, who pioneered the enhancement of CRISPR versions. "I warn that people are not aware of the recent news that China is less vigilant or taking care of these ethical violations than any other country

In the short term, the risk of abuse may not hurt people directly, but the potential As a deterrent to legitimate research, governments and regulators should push for stronger restrictions.

With a report by Oscar Holland in Hong Kong and Serenitie Wang and Steven Jiang in Beijing

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