18.11.27 Baby Gene Editing

November 27, 2018
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DESIGNER BABIES?

A Chinese researcher claims he’s the first to create genetically-edited babies – the secretive process and timing raising questions all over the world.

Science Bombshell?

Background

  • What is gene editing? Technology allowing scientists to remove, repair or replace the DNA of living cells. (i.e. plants, animals, humans.)
  • Why do it? Power to eliminate disease or correct genetic issues.
  • Is it legal? U.S. scientists can experiment with human embryos but cannot implant these embryos to produce actual pregnancies.

The Basics: Reports

  • Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, says he modified genes during IVF, to make babies resistant to HIV.
  • Couples (all fathers HIV positive) recruited to participate.
  • Results, which have yet to be vetted, focus on twin girls: only one twin had both copies of the genes altered, meaning the other is still at risk.
“If true, this experiment is monstrous. The embryos were healthy. No known diseases.”

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, describing the experiment as "genetic Russian roulette." Experts argue there are many other effective ways to counter HIV if one does get it.

Something To Consider:

  • Experiments are vetted (peer scientists examine data & results); this one has not…yet.
  • Experts question whether study was necessary, safe, or ethical. Unintended genetic edits may do more harm than good.
  • A pioneer of gene editing, reacting to the news of the study, called for a “moratorium on implantation of edited embryos.”

Today in Hong Kong a huge conference on humane genome editing is taking place. The researcher will present his findings, though the organizers say they had no knowledge of his work, made public right before this international event.

by Jenna Lee,

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