"Horrifying": Global outrage after Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies

A microplate containing embryos that have been injected with CRISPR-Cas9 in a laboratory of Chinese scientist He Jiankui.									Mark Schiefelbein  AP

A Chinese scientist has claimed to created the world's first gene-edited human babies, shocking the scientific community across the globe.

He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said he changed the embryos for seven couples during their fertility treatments.

He's academic board said He had "seriously violated academic ethics and norms".

He insisted he had consulted overseas scientists during previous worldwide conferences on genome editing.

He said there had been "another potential pregnancy" involving a second couple, but when questioned further agreed it had been a chemical pregnancy - a term referring to a very early miscarriage.

They said: "In this ever more competitive global pursuit of applications for gene editing, we hope to be a stand-out".

After first dropping the bombshell in a video posted on the internet that he had engineered the birth of healthy twin girls through altered embryos to ensure they would not contract HIV, He Jiankui - who has been called China's Frankenstein - went silent for two days.

"This is far too premature", said Dr. Eric Topol of California's Scripps Research Translational Institute said it was "far too premature" to be "dealing with the operating instructions of a human being".

According to the scientist, the parents participating in the experiment, refuse to reveal their identity and want their names, place of work and position remained confidential. It said He is on unpaid leave until 2021.

The gene CCR5 codes for a protein that allows HIV to enter and infect a cell. "This work reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene editing in human embryos to settings where a clear unmet medical need exists".

The first births from genome edited human embryos have been announced by a Chinese researcher amid widespread condemnation, and fears over safety.

He made this sensational (in all senses) claim at a press conference in Hong Kong on 26th November, adding that "society will decide what to do next".

"Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after investigation", SUSTC said in the statement.

Julian Savulescu, an expert in ethics at the University of Oxford, told the BBC, "If true, this experiment is monstrous".

In an open letter circulating online, the scientists said the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui reportedly led the gene-editing efforts to make the infants resistant to HIV.

"Grossly premature and deeply unethical", is how noted US bioethicist Henry Greely of Stanford University characterized the claim.

According to He, a pair of twins that underwent gene editing were recently born.

"All of us here at this conference are struggling to figure out what was done and also whether the process was done properly", she said.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientist from the Francis Crick Institute in London, said: "He obviously thought he was doing a good thing".

When the girls were still embryos, he used chemical "scissors" to turn off a gene that makes people vulnerable to HIV infection. However, eradicating diseases at the source is certainly a noble mission and I for one, would love to see He's research propagated and taken up by others.

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