In 2015, Chinese researchers altered the genes of a human embryo in a lab dish. Twin girls were born a few weeks ago, purportedly protected from HIV when CRISPR disabled a gene that would otherwise allow HIV to enter their cells.
The man, He Jiankui, made the claims ahead of a genetic technology conference, and his alleged work drew swift criticism from many other medical researchers who find human genetic modification to be both unsafe and unethical.
One independent expert even questioned whether the claim could be a hoax. The Chinese government has also since ordered an inquiry.
More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky and unjustified. Although China prohibits human cloning, it does not specifically outlaw gene editing.
In videos posted to YouTube this week, He claimed he successfully edited the genetic code of twin girls while they were embryos. The goal, he said in the interview, was to produce babies with the ability to resist HIV infection in the future by disabling CCR5, a gene that enables the virus to take hold.
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Experts are concerned that meddling with an embryo's genome may harm not only the individual but many generations of offspring that inherit the same changes.
Feng Zhang, a leader in the field from the Broad Institute, called for a moratorium on implanting edited embryos until safety requirements have been set. He has claimed that the resulting genomes were assessed at the embryonic stage, during pregnancy, and after birth to confirm that the intended gene alone was changed. With this technology comes the risk of altering other genes that weren't meant to be modified.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that He sought and received approval for his project from the ethics committee of Shenzhen Harmonicare Women's and Children's Hospital, and an approval document from the hospital circulated online on Monday. He or any involvement in the experiment.
Critics have also questioned whether participants fully understood what they were agreeing to and have noted that Jiankui did not give official notice of his work until long after he had begun.
The Shenzhen university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday that said the researcher had been on unpaid leave from February 1, 2018 and was not expected to return until January 2021.
Tim Caulfield, a professor of health and law at the University of Alberta, said he believes there is "an emerging worldwide consensus that this research should progress" but added that "we're not at the state right now where we want to be using this technology in the clinic".
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The procedure is a potential fix for heritable diseases but it is extremely controversial because the changes would be passed down to future generations and could eventually affect the entire gene pool.
One leading geneticist, Harvard University's George Church, defended attempting gene editing for HIV, which he called "a major and growing public health threat".
In an e-mail, Annas voiced skepticism of He's claim but said there are a number of ethical concerns if the researcher is, in fact, telling the truth. One day, a guardian reveals to the students that they're clones, created for organ donations. In denouncing the driver of Dr.
Professor Joyce Harper, professor in genetics and human embryology at London's UCL, said: "Today's report of genome editing human embryos for resistance to HIV is premature, unsafe and irresponsible".
The CRISPR tool is a recently developed tool for adding necessary genes or disabling harmful ones to treat diseases in adults, though the US only allows it to be used in lab research.
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