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Scientist Responsible For 'CRISPR' Babies Speaks Out And Defends Research

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The scientist who claimed to have made the first genetically edited baby has defended the procedure at a conference in Hong Kong. In his speech, he said that he is proud of what he has done.   ( Colin Behrens | Pixabay )

Jiankui He, the Chinese scientists who revealed earlier this month that he has created the world's first genetically edited babies, said that he has no regrets.

Speaking at a genetics conference in Hong Kong, the university professor said that he is proud of his achievement despite the universal condemnation he received from his peers and the public.

World's First CRISPR Babies

On Monday, The Associated Press released the shocking report that He, together with an American colleague, used CRISPR to genetically alter two babies — twin girls named Lula and Nana. He removed a gene associated with the HIV/AIDS virus in the hopes that the children will never contract the disease in the future.

"We should, for millions of families with inherited disease, show compassion," he told the audience during his appearance onstage at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing. "If we have this technology, we can make it available earlier. We can help earlier those people in need."

He talked about the development of his experiments, including early trials involving mice and primates. Eventually, he moved to a human clinical trial, recruiting eight couples with an HIV-positive father and non-infected mother. A total of 31 embryos were created using in vitro fertilization, 70 percent of which were successfully genetically edited.

The scientist presented evidence that the CRISPR gene-editing tool did not have any unintended genetic changes on the children. He also revealed at the event that there is another potential pregnancy.

Calls To Regulate Gene-Editing

The report has raised serious concerns from scientists around the world. During He's talk, Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that the resulting births were caused by the "failure of self-regulation in the scientific community."

On Monday, Quartz reported that over 100 Chinese scientists have signed an open letter condemning the procedure, calling it "crazy." They are hoping that a regulation will be developed to prevent any such experiments in the future.

Feng Zheng, one of the inventors of CRISPR, also issued a statement to express concerns over using the technique to modify babies.

"Given the current state of the technology, I am in favor of a moratorium on implantation of edited embryos," he told the MIT Technology Review.

The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen where He works has publicly condemned the project and said that it has launched a probe to see if the project broke any laws or regulations.

 

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