Health Care

Scientist defends 'world's first gene-edited babies'

Scientist defends 'world's first gene-edited babies'”

Instead they stress the importance of employing a rigorous ethical framework to any research done on editing human life.

The conference was rocked by Chinese researcher He Jiankui's claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies, twin girls he said were born earlier this month. "We recommend an independent assessment to verify this claim and to ascertain whether the claimed DNA modifications have occurred".

The founder of the Baihualin (BHL) China League, who calls himself "Bai Hua", reportedly introduced 50 families to Dr He's team. "Actually right now my personal feeling is that they are a bit insane", he told RTHK.

"The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation", he added.

He admitted at a gene-editing conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday he had already initiated another pregnancy, although it was too soon to tell if it would go to full term.

David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and chairman of the organising committee, told reporters it was He's decision not to attend.

Mr He had made the claims at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing being held in Hong Kong. When he presented his research on Wednesday, he said he was "proud" of his work.

The researcher, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed to have altered the DNA of the twins to try to make them resistant to infection with HIV - a precursor to the AIDS virus - an action that he said he was "proud" of.

All couples he recruited for this study had an HIV-positive father, and a non-infected mother.

Gene editing for reproductive purposes might be considered in the future, "but only when there is compelling medical need", with clear understanding of risks and benefits, and certain other conditions, said Victor Dzau, president of the US National Academy of Medicine.

Experts warned that editing human embryos can create unintended mutations in other areas - so-called "off-target effects" - which can have an impact through the lifetime. He did not respond to a request for comment on his work.

He, who was educated at Stanford University, said the twins' DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

She also called for public and transparent discussion of the technology so "that this news not detract from the many important clinical efforts to use CRISPR technology to treat and cure disease in adults and in children".

The ministry was also quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying: "The nature of this incident is extremely nasty, and relevant bodies have been ordered to temporarily halt the scientific research activities of relevant personnel".

In an open letter, more than 300 Chinese scientists raised 10 questions for He and his team related to safety, effectiveness and goal of the research, and whether he has concealed other related experiments from the public, China Daily reported.

Zeng Yixin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, said Thursday the commission had paid close attention to the reports and sent a working group to assist in the probe. It has also violated the ethical bottom line that the academic community adheres to.

Leading scientists said there were now even more reasons to worry, and more questions than answers, after He's talk.

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