A Chinese researcher claims that he has helped make the world's first genetically-edited babies, a practice banned in the United States.
The First Gene-Edited Humans
Jiankui He of Shenzhen, China explained that he altered the embryos for seven couples, but only one resulted to pregnancy thus far. The parents of the babies refused to be named, but he revealed that the goal was not to cure an inherited disease. The researcher said that he wanted to give the children an ability only a few people in the world have — to resist the infection of the HIV/AIDS virus in the future.
"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," He exclusively told The Associated Press. "Society will decide what to do next" in terms of allowing or forbidding such science."
There is no independent confirmation that He participated in gene-editing the twin babies, according to the report. The researcher also did not say where it was done.
Is China Making CRISPR Babies?
The exclusive report by The Associated Press was published shortly after the MIT Technology Review had pushed out another story about medical documents that were uploaded online by a team of researchers from the Southern University of Science and Technology. The documents were looking for couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited baby by eliminating a gene called CCR5, which plays a crucial role in the infection of HIV.
The medical documents were reportedly posted earlier this month. He was also involved in the effort.
In 2015, Chinese researchers did a gene-editing experiment for the first time using non-viable human embryos in a lab dish. This caused a major outcry from the scientific community around the world.
Ethical And Medical Concerns Of Gene-Editing
He explained that he chose to remove the CCR5 gene and therefore, prevent the children from catching HIV/AIDS in the future because these infections are becoming a major issue in China.
Some scientists have condemned the claim. Kiran Musunuru, a gene-editing expert from the University of Pennsylvania, called it "unconscionable," arguing that the effort was "an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible."
However, editing the embryos has raised serious concerns because the changes made in the DNA can be inherited by future generations and could, therefore, affect the entire gene pool. Moreover, the effects of the process on a child are not fully known yet.
Experts interviewed by The Associated Press, who reviewed materials of He's experiment, said that there are no sufficient tests to say if the gene-editing worked to rule out the possibility that the child will be protected from the HIV virus. They also explained that at least one twin was a patchwork of cells with various alterations, but infection can still occur.
In addition, even if the gene-editing worked, Musunuru revealed that the removal of the normal CCR5 gene comes with higher risks of getting other viruses such as West Nile.