Scientists refute genetic modification of twins claim made by Chinese researcher


The Southern University of Science and Technology in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, where the scientist, He Jiankui, holds an associate professorship, said it had been unaware of the research project and that He had been on leave without pay since February.

He claims to have altered the twins' DNA while they were embryos.

Hong Kong Executive Carrie Lam (C) and guests pose for a group photo during the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, Nov. 27, 2018.

In Canada, the research would likely have broken the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which states that "no person shall knowingly alter the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the adjustment is capable of being transmitted to descendants".

Baltimore said speakers for the conference were chosen according to their publication record and their status in the field.

"I don't think that appears to have been done in this case", said Doudna. "We've only found out about it after it's happened and the children are born".

Another conference leader, Harvard Medical School dean Dr. George Daley, said he worries about other scientists trying this in the absence of regulations or a ban. He said his ultimate goal was to alter the babies' genes in a way that would protect them from future HIV infection.

He spoke after Harvard Medical School Dean George Daley alluded to He's claims as "missteps" that he anxious might set back a highly promising field of research.

The recent actions of the Chinese scientist leap over both the germline and the enhancement walls.

"We believe the research led by He is strongly against both the Chinese regulations and the consensus reached by the global science community", the two groups said in a statement posted online.

"This is a practice with the least degree of ethical justifiability and acceptability", Qiu said. "We just don't know yet".

But Daley argued that a consensus was a emerging that "if we can solve the scientific challenges, it may be a moral imperative that it should be permitted".

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Nobel laureate David Baltimore said professor He's work would "be considered irresponsible" because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered. They also posted quotations from the late British scientist Stephen Hawking, who spoke of the "significant political problems" posed by humans who have not been genetically modified. "And I think transparency is incredibly important".

Gene editing was performed on seven couples infected with HIV out of them, one couple gave birth to twins with disabled CCR5 gene.

Baylis said it was also ethically questionable that He chose to address an HIV gene, when there are other less risky ways to prevent HIV.

Sohnee Ahmed, president of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors, added that he hopes scientists will now "double-down to emphasize this is something that should not be happening at this time, not without any kind of oversight".

More than 120 Chinese scientists have co-signed a letter, released on China's social media site Weibo, condemning He's work and calling it "a strike at the reputation and development of China's science, especially in biomedical research", according to a translation by Quartz.

On Tuesday, Shenzhen Harmonicare Women and Children's Hospital said in a statement it suspected the signature on a document approving the experiment, specifically its adherence to ethical standards, was falsified and that it had asked police to investigate.

Condemnation of the procedure, however, is not universal among experts. We don't need genome editing to prevent HIV-we need to make existing preventive measures and treatments more widely available. Researchers have stressed that the risk of off-target effects (unintentionally changing other genes) and mosaicism (only altering the target gene in some of the child's cells rather than all of them) could lead to unexpected and harmful health effects such as cancer later in life.

However, how one defines "disease" is notoriously fluid, with pharmaceutical companies frequently creating new diseases to be treated in a process sociologists call medicalization.

He Jiankui claims to have help create genetically modified babies.

He's employer, Southern University of Science and Technology, said in a statement that it was not informed about He's human gene-editing work and has opened an investigation.

"If true, this experiment is monstrous", he said. "When we start picking and choosing which genes we want to continue having, we are taking part in an experiment that is not ours".