Medical

I checked ethics before making gene-edited babies, says scientist

I checked ethics before making gene-edited babies, says scientist

In his talk, which detailed his research on editing a gene called CCR5 in human embryos, He said that the parents were given the option to exit the trial without implanting the gene-edited embryos, or to use non-edited embryos instead.

With some hesitation, He told the crowd at the second International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong that more babies modified by the revolutionary gene-editing tool CRISPR could be on the way.

Early past year, CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, about the ethics surrounding CRISPR technology in general.

Despite the ongoing backlash, the man at the center of the storm says he stands by his experiment, which he argues is only meant to help people.

This is not the first time Chinese researchers have experimented with human embryo technology.

He said that eight couples were enrolled in the trial, but one dropped out.

"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they chose to implant", he said.

Scientists say baby gene editing may one day be justifiable, but that more checks and measures are needed before allowing it. Such work is banned in most countries.

He also indicated the work had been submitted for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

The ethics of the procedure are also complicated by the fact that targeting specific segments of DNA may not be fully precise or could carry side effects that are hard to predict.

In the United Kingdom and many other countries it is illegal to create genetically modified babies, and scientists in the field have reached a broad consensus that it would be deeply unethical to try.

The second potential pregnancy is in a very early stage and needs more time to be monitored to see if it will last, He said.

But details of the experiment, which has not been independently verified, triggered an immediate backlash, with experts denouncing He's work as an ethical "mess".

Faced with a barrage of criticism, He defended his work.




"This is probably the worst gene you would choose" to test in pregnancy because it doesn't fix a disease the children were destined to get, said Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health & Science University, who in laboratory-only experiments studies how to repair gene defects in embryos.

He did not name those people. He talked about visiting villages in China where 30 percent of children are HIV positive.

"For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest, because [the baby girls' parents] had lost hope for life", he said.

"I knew his early work".

But critics said Monday's announcement opens the door to "designer babies". The Chinese government has also since ordered an inquiry.

"We believe the research led by Dr He is strongly against both the Chinese regulations and the consensus reached by the worldwide science community", the two groups said in a statement posted online.

Southern University of Science and Technology said that it is unaware of the research project and is launching an investigation. A 2016 guideline from the National Population and Family Planning Commission states that any biomedical research on human diseases must first be reviewed and approved by ethics authorities.

The hospital said it would lodge a police complaint against He.

Maddison's facility - which launched past year as part of the WSU functional genomics initiative with a focus of bringing gene editing into agriculture - serves the entire WSU system, helping anyone who wants to apply CRISPR gene editing into their scientific work. There are also other ways to prevent HIV infection.

However, many in the scientific community disagree. Drs. "It's an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society".

"They need this protection since a vaccine is not available", He said.

"I think we do that with some risk". Our conclusion was that we needed a public debate before gene editing on embryos was carried out because this procedure takes reproduction to a new level.

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.