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The CRISPR-baby scandal: what’s next for human gene-editing

Feb 26, 2019

By David Cyranoski

In the three months since He Jiankui announced the birth of twin girls with edited genomes, the questions facing the scientific community have grown knottier.

By engineering mutations into human embryos, which were then used to produce babies, He leapt capriciously into an era in which science could rewrite the gene pool of future generations by altering the human germ line. He also flouted established norms for safety and human protections along the way.

There is still no definitive evidence that the biophysicist actually succeeded in modifying the girls’ genes — or those of a third child expected to be born later this year. But the experiments have attracted so much attention that the incident could alter research for years to come.

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4 comments on “The CRISPR-baby scandal: what’s next for human gene-editing

  • An article published in the New York Times yesterday explains a very interesting development in the field of gene editing and has ties to the CRISPR baby scandal in China.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/04/health/aids-cure-london-patient.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

    Excerpts from this article:

     

    One possibility, said Dr. Deeks and others, is to develop gene-therapy approaches to knock out CCR5 on immune cells or their predecessor stem cells. Resistant to H.I.V. infection, these modified cells should eventually clear the body of the virus.
    (CCR5 is the protein that He Jiankui, a scientist in China, claimed to have modified with gene editing in at least two children, in an attempt to make them resistant to H.I.V. — an experiment that set off international condemnation.)
     



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  • I fail to see what this should be considered such a scandal. We’ve been developing this technology for years and have read all about its potential and what it can do. Did we really think nobody was going to use it? If the use of CRISPR can remove the susceptibility for contracting diseases, and even cure them, then I don’t see the problem. I say “congratulations” to the Chinese for taking the first step.


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  • There was this earlier work on eliminating hereditary diseases, but this was more limited, and it was legally approved.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/01/permission-given-to-create-britains-first-three-person-babies

    Doctors in Newcastle have been granted permission to create Britain’s first “three-person babies” for two women who are at risk of passing on devastating and incurable genetic diseases to their children.

    The green light from the fertility regulator means that doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre will now attempt to make healthy embryos for the women by merging fertilised eggs created through standard IVF with DNA from female donors.



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  • Steve Bannister,

     

    I fail to see what this should be considered such a scandal.

    Well, there is that sticky wicket of bioethics that can really get in the way of docs and experimenters of all types who have a bright idea and try to charge forward with total disregard for patients’ rights. Human lives have been created for the purpose of disabling that CCR5 cell receptor. Is there harm? Do the means justify the ends?

    We are all excited about the future power of gene editing but also wary of the potential for harm. It’s complicated.


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