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China scientist claims world's first gene-edited babies

27 November 2018

A China researcher claims world's first genetically edited babies, which were born in China earlier this month.

He had also previously spoken with the Associated Press about his study, which he says resulted in twin girls born with the first genomes edited by man.

He Jianhui, a scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, believes he has altered the DNA of twin girls to stop them being infected in the future.

The US scientist who worked with him on this project after Mr He returned to China was physics and bioengineering professor Michael Deem, who was his adviser at Rice in Houston.

There is no independent confirmation of Mr He's claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.

"I think this is justifiable", Church said.

The enthusiasm stems from gene editing's potential to help better understand diseases, and to prevent or treat certain illnesses.

The university added that He's research utilizing altered DNA was "conducted outside of the campus and was not reported to the University nor the Department". He then targeted CCR5 for editing in an embryo generated through IVF.

The editing process, which he calls gene surgery, "worked safely as intended" and the girls are "as healthy as any other babies", he says in one video. When they were a single cell, genetic surgery using a popular tool, CRISPR, "removed the doorway through which HIV enters to infect people". Annas also asserted that He is "unqualified as a physicist to deal with patients, touch them, or get consent from them for a medical procedure (we don't know about the physicians involved, but on the surface, they seem to have acted unethically as well)".

He unveiled his research on Monday in Hong Kong to one of the organisers of an global conference on gene editing that is set to begin on Tuesday.

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Specifically, He deleted a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. "We also do not need gene editing to ensure it isn't passed on to offspring", she said.

The Chinese researcher said he practised editing mice, monkey and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents on his methods.

"W$3 e've never done anything that will change the genes of the human race, and we've never done anything that will have effects that will go on through the generations", biologist David Baltimore, chair of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, which starts tomorrow, said in pre-recorded remarks.

The research, however, was to offer HIV positive people a way to have children with immunity to the deadly virus.

First, sperm was "washed" to separate it from semen, the fluid where HIV can lurk.

It is said that many mainstream scientists feel like gene-editing humans are too unsafe to try, and others are said to have denounced this Chinese research as it being akin to human experimentation.

Although the scientists were trying to find a cure for HIV altering the inception of the cell, they failed.

Subsequently, a single sperm was put into a single egg in order to create an embryo. The seven couples in the human trial were recruited through a Beijing-based AIDS advocacy group. There is also no evidence of any harm to the embryos' other genes. An online survey conducted by Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou found that more than two-thirds of the 4,771 people surveyed (575 of whom reportedly have HIV), supported its use in treating diseases, according to the state-run tabloid Global Times. A few weeks old, they appear to be healthy. 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.

Further pregnancy attempts are on hold until the safety of this one is analyzed and experts in the field weigh in, but participants were not told in advance that they might not have a chance to try what they signed up for once a "first" was achieved, He acknowledged.

Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who co-chaired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report that Doudna referred to, says it laid out "stringent conditions" that should be met before undertaking genome editing: There had to be a serious, unmet medical need; the effort should be well-monitored and with sufficient follow-up; and there had to be informed consent of the parents.

China scientist claims world's first gene-edited babies

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