Published: Thu, November 29, 2018
Medicine | By Debra Reynolds

Genetically Editing Babies Is A Slippery Slope, Canadian Scientists Say

Genetically Editing Babies Is A Slippery Slope, Canadian Scientists Say

He Jiankui claims to have help create genetically modified babies.

According to reports from the Associated Press and the MIT Technology Review, researcher He Jiankui, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, and others recruited couples in China seeking in vitro fertilization.

He Jiankui tell a biomedical conference he is "proud" to have successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father. He made his first public comments about his claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies. In his YouTube video, He describes the procedure as having "removed the doorway through which HIV enters".

The National Health Commission on Monday ordered local officials in Guangdong province -where Shenzhen is located - to investigate He's actions.

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The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission said it had not received an ethical assessment application for the study.

"Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after investigation", SUSTC said in the statement.

With all this in mind, any research in this area needs to be peer-reviewed and published in the scientific literature, with all the necessary preliminary work, so that we can make a valued analysis of the technique. In a statement, the university said it was unaware of his work, emphasizing that it was not conducted on campus.

His claims, which have caused widespread outrage, have yet to be independently verified. Some have called He's work illegal, but while human cloning is illegal in China, gene editing isn't. In the United Kingdom, editing of embryos may be permitted for research purposes with strict regulatory approval. It's not known if the pregnancy referred to was carried to term, is ongoing, or was terminated.

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Sohnee Ahmed, president of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors, said that if the Chinese scientist's claim is true, the birth of the word's first genetically altered babies has run way ahead of both scientific maturity and ethical considerations.

Julian Savulescu, a medical ethics expert at Britain's University of Oxford, agreed. "Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as insane", the scientists said in their letter, a copy of which was posted by the Chinese news website the Paper. "It is extremely unfair to Chinese scientists who are diligent, innovative and defending the bottom line of scientific ethics". "This is not something for a scientist on their own, or even a group of scientists to decide", Baylis, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told CTV News.

"I disagree with the notion of stepping out of the general consensus of the scientific community", Hurlbut said.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said: "Genetic editing technology is far from mature and could have unforeseen consequences for the subjects".

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"There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: For example, protected sex". One day, a guardian reveals to the students that they're clones, created for organ donations.

The gene-editing work had started three years ago, partly paid for by He, who had consulted, he said, with just a few colleagues about his plans.

George J. Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University, was also critical of He's announcement.

Chinese bioethicist Qiu Renzong was quoted in a tweet by The CRISPR Journal as saying: "There is a convenient and practical method to prevent HIV infection".

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"There's any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans". "We know very little about the long-term effects, and most people would agree that experimentation on humans for an avoidable condition just to improve our knowledge is morally and ethically unacceptable".

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