WATCH: Researcher Says First Gene-Edited Babies Born; Fellow Scientists Condemn His 'Unethical' Actions

According to a Stanford-educated Chinese researcher, the first ever genetically edited babies — twin girls whom he altered to be more resistant to HIV infection — were born this month, an action that is being condemned as "unethical" by some of his fellow scientists.
In an Associated Press report published Monday, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, China, who studied at Rice and Stanford before returning to China to open up his own lab, claims that he helped "design" the world's first genetically altered babies, who were born this month.
"He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus," AP reports.
AP underscores that there's been "no independent confirmation of He’s claim, and it has not been published in a journal," though he has provided research materials to some of his colleagues. He first revealed the results of his alleged experiment in exclusive interviews with AP and then to an organizer of an international conference on gene editing.
"If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics," AP notes.
In his lab in China, He was able to perform gene editing banned in the United States in part because of its dubious ethical implications, which some of He's fellow scientists have stressed in response to his claims. The kinds of modifications the researcher has allegedly taken, his critics say, could negatively impact future generations.
"I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example," He said in a recorded interview posted by AP Monday. He hopes that his success will prompt the further, appropriate use of the gene-editing techniques.
AP cites Harvard's George Church, who heads the Synthetic Biology at the Wyss Institute, who believes He's actions are a "justifiable" step in preventing the spread of HIV, "a major and growing public health threat," but who has questioned He's experiment nonetheless.
Others, like the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a gene editing expert, have strongly decried He's actions as "unsconscionable" and neither "morally or ethically defensible."
"We still have a lot of work to do to prove and establish that the procedure is safe," Musunuru told AP. "I would say that no babies should be born at this point in time following the use of this technology. It's simply too early, too premature."
Dr. Eric Topol, executive VP of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, echoed Musunuru, criticizing He's experiment as "far too premature."
After reviewing materials He provided, both Church and Musunuru particularly questioned He's decision to allow one of the two embryos to be used because He knew that only one of the copies of genes in that embryo had been altered.
Musunuru says that there was "almost nothing to be gained" in protection from HIV for that child because both genes must be altered to be effective, while the changes posed "unknown safety risks. He's use of the incompletely edited embryo, Church suggested, indicates that he's more interested in testing his editing techniques than actually immunizing the child.
"Even if editing worked perfectly, people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from the flu," AP notes. "Since there are many ways to prevent HIV infection and it’s very treatable if it occurs, those other medical risks are a concern, Musunuru said."
AP suggests that He may have also misled authorities and participants about his research: He gave official notice of his research "long after" he began it, and one consent form describing the project simply as an "AIDS vaccine development" program.
Watch AP's report below:

AP provides some more details on the process He said he used, which he first practiced on mice, monkey and then human embryos in his lab in Shenzen:
The gene editing occurred during IVF, or lab dish fertilization. First, sperm was “washed” to separate it from semen, the fluid where HIV can lurk. A single sperm was placed into a single egg to create an embryo. Then the gene editing tool was added.
When the embryos were 3 to 5 days old, a few cells were removed and checked for editing. Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts. In all, 16 of 22 embryos were edited, and 11 embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He said.
Tests suggest that one twin had both copies of the intended gene altered and the other twin had just one altered, with no evidence of harm to other genes, He said. People with one copy of the gene can still get HIV, although some very limited research suggests their health might decline more slowly once they do.
WATCH: Researcher Says First Gene-Edited Babies Born; Fellow Scientists Condemn His 'Unethical' Actions WATCH: Researcher Says First Gene-Edited Babies Born; Fellow Scientists Condemn His 'Unethical' Actions Reviewed by Your Destination on November 26, 2018 Rating: 5

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