Genetic research is an important study. However, making changes to the human genome is still a subject that is wrought with controversy, which is why a Chinese CRISPR scientists claims that he had helped edit the genes of two human babies that were born recently, has attracted tons of attention. The claims stem from Dr. Jiankui He, who is a Chinese scientist from a Shenzhen university.
Speaking with the Associated Press, He said that twin girls were born earlier this month after he edited their embryos using CRISPR technology. The purpose of the edit was to remove the CCR5 gene, which helps enable many forms of the HIV virus to infect cells. He’s edit will ensure that the twins have stronger immunity against HIV virus.
The AP interview came right on the heels of a report by the MIT technology review, which stated that He’s team at the Southern University of Science and Technology wants to use CRISPR technology to edit out the CCR5 gene from children, and provide them with inborn ability to resist HIV infection. Details on the process have yet to emerge, as He has not published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal as of yet.
However, with the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, set to begin in Hong Kong tomorrow, this news is certain to attract plenty of eyeballs from some of the foremost people in the CRISPR domain. The summit organizers were interestingly in the dark about He’s research, and received intimation today.
Recognizing the cultural and ethical questions the birth of the genetically modified twins is bound to raise, He, who is a Rice and Stanford alumnus, said that he felt:
……….a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example.
Society will decide what to do next.
The study has received a go-ahead from the Medical Ethics Committee of Shenzhen HOME Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and it was executed between March 7, 2017 and March 7, 2019. The study said that it’s the aim was:
……..to obtain healthy children to avoid HIV providing new insights for the future elimination of major genetic diseases in early human embryos.
Meanwhile, China, United States and many European countries have prohibited the use of genetically-engineered to bear children. The main concern with the prohibition, has been the creation of designer babies, say with blue eyes, or an off-the-charts IQ…….and the effects, making such modifications with the currently available technology could have. However, eradicating diseases at the source is certainly a noble mission and I for one, would love to see He’s research propagated and taken up by others.
Meanwhile, we are awaiting more details on the study, and will update this article accordingly.