2nd gene-edited pregnancy reported, scientist claims


He Jiankui claims to have help create genetically modified babies.

The Chinese biologist claimed he had helped alter the genes of the twin girls to increase their resistance to the HIV virus from their infected father, while their mother was free of the disease.

He Jiankui, who goes by "JK", studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.

He said the babies, known as "Lulu" and "Nana" although they are not their real names, were born through regular IVF but using an egg which was specially modified before being inserted into the womb.

They include Feng Zhang and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a powerful but simple new tool called CRISPR-cas9 that reportedly was used on the Chinese babies during fertility treatments when they were conceived.

China's National Health Commission said it was "highly concerned" about the claims and ordered local health officials "to immediately investigate" He's activity.

But scientists and the Chinese government have denounced the work that He said he carried out, and a hospital linked to his research suggested its ethical approval had been forged. The babies in question were born in China earlier this month, The Associated Press reported.

The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission said it had not received an ethical assessment application for the study.

His work has not yet been independently confirmed or reviewed by other scientists, but if proven true, it crosses into a new frontier of medicine and ethics.

Reuters reports that the Southern University of Science and Technology notes in a statement that it "strictly requires scientific research to conform to national laws and regulations and to respect and comply with global academic ethics and standards".

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Research institutions have also distanced themselves from He's work. He did not report to the school and the department of biology, and the school and the biology department did not know about it.

Southern University of Science and Technology said that it is unaware of the research project and is launching an investigation.

Nobel laureate David Baltimore said Wednesday the work of the scientist who made the claim would "be considered irresponsible" because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered.

"I don't think it has been a transparent process", Baltimore said. The university He associated himself with, and claimed he had clearance from to conduct genetic modification, shot down his story shortly after it became public, and now it seems the scientist was actually suspended from his job as far back as February 1, 2018.

However, there were some who defended He's meddling with the human genome.

A new statement issued by the university condemns the genetic modification if it indeed has been done. "There was a worrying lack of oversight or scrutiny of his clinical plans before he started human experiments and a complete lack of transparency throughout the process". "The embryos were healthy. All medical advances, gene editing or otherwise and particularly those that impact vulnerable populations, should be cautiously and thoughtfully tested, discussed openly with patients, physicians, scientists, and other community members, and implemented in an equitable way".

"There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: For example, protected sex".

Gene editing is a way to rewrite DNA, the code of life, to try to supply a missing gene that is needed or disable one that is causing problems.

George J. Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University, was also critical of He's announcement. The edit removes the doorway through which HIV enters the cell to infect people, He said in the video. In China, however, only human cloning is outlawed, leaving a gray area when it comes to genetic editing.