Gene-editing babies a violation of Chinese law, says official

Henrietta Strickland
December 3, 2018

Several scientists, including Doudna, described him as "naive". Communications department officials at the school did not respond to requests to discuss the investigation into He's research activities.

Immediately after his presentation, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who led the conference's organising committee, told the audience that what He had done "would still be considered irresponsible".

Deem said he was in China when the participants agreed to genetic editing, and said they understood the risks, according to The Associated Press.

More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday that the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China. CCR5 was not a high-priority gene to edit, he says, because there are other ways to effectively prevent and treat HIV.

"I don't think it has been a transparent process".

He and his team allegedly disabled a gene which makes a protein that makes it possible for HIV to infect people's cells, potentially making these babies resistant to HIV.

The statement comes after two days of silence following the release of a video in which he claimed that he had engineered the birth of HIV-immune twin girls. Other scientists pointed to now available prophylactic treatments and antiretroviral drugs that can be effective in preventing HIV transmission and infection, saying the procedure was unnecessary.

It was expected scientists and experts would produce a formal statement on gene editing, including what is acceptable and how trials can be regulated.

The news however did not meet the approval of the scientific community worldwide. Silva said via e-mail that deleting both copies of the gene showed greater benefit, but even "one copy alone is sufficient to see enhancements in certain forms of memory".

"The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation", he said. A report this summer by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the United Kingdom concluded that gene editing to influence future generations "could be ethically acceptable in some circumstances".

"The simple fact that he was directly involved in trying to get consent from the patients is a huge problem", said Robin Lovell-Badge, head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute, who moderated the discussion with He.

He claimed he used a technique called CRISPR/Cas9, which, if true, would be the first time the technique has been used to alter genes in unborn humans.

Daley, for his part, says he was surprised to hear that He knew about the brain research. He added that, despite the controversies, gene surgery should "remain a technology for healing". "That should be banned". His university has distanced itself from the research, saying it will launch an investigation.

Its vice chairman Huai Jinpeng characterised the matter as "extremely abominable in nature", adding that it has seriously damaged the image and interests of the Chinese scientific community.

The genes were edited to prevent the embryos from being able to contract, He said, noting that the twins' father had the virus.

However, many of those in attendance at the Hong Kong conference have pointed out that while He has not necessarily contravened any global regulations, his purported use of CRISPR represents a clear break with convention.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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