Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
Medicine | By Rogelio Lindsey

Chinese scientist 'proudest' about gene-edited babies, East Asia News & Top Stories

Chinese scientist 'proudest' about gene-edited babies, East Asia News & Top Stories

"This leaked unexpectedly, taking away from the community before presenting in a scientific venue and without the peer review process engaged before this conference", Jiankui said while speaking at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Chinese authorities recently told genetics researcher He Jiankui to stop all work after he made global headlines by claiming to create the world's first gene-edited babies.

Later on, He Jiankui defended his work in front of a packed Hong Kong biomedical conference, saying he had successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father, an apparent medical first.

Gene editing could potentially help avoid heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos. Still, that practice is surrounded by intense ethical debate, questions on the regulation of safety and is governed by laws in some countries; in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to gene edit human embryos over 14 days old. He claims to have genetically modified their embryos to make the children resistant to future HIV infection, and alleges that the process resulted in the aforementioned twins.

Scientist He Jiankui attends the International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong November 28, 2018. The university also distanced itself from the research, saying it "seriously violates ethical and academic standards and regulations". "Progress over the last three years and the discussions at the current summit, . suggest that it is time to define a rigorous, responsible. pathway toward such trials", said Baltimore, a Nobel-prize winning USA biologist.

Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that proceeding with germ-line editing in this way was "irresponsible" and criticized He for not being more open.

Mr He, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in the city of Shenzhen, said the woman had given birth to twin girls, known as Lulu and Nana.

Prof He's experiment is prohibited under Chinese laws, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state media. He also said that the parents were informed of the potential risks of the off-target edit.

The case prompted a heated debate among the scientific community, with many raising concerns over the lack of verified data and the risks of exposing healthy embryos to gene editing. "I feel proudest, because they had lost hope for life", He said, when challenged by several peers at the conference (live stream below). He sought to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter a cell.

The National Health Commission has ordered an investigation into He's claims, as has the Southern University of Science of Technology, where the scientist worked. Although he still hasn't published any real evidence, scientists across the world were quick to condemn the ethically dubious claims, describing the experiment as "deeply concerning", "shocking", and "monstrous".

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