Jiankui He arrives to speak at the 2nd International Summit on Genome Editing, Hong Kong November 28, 2018.
The controversial experiment, publicised through the media and videos posted online by He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China, was criticised by many scientists worldwide as premature and called "rogue human experimentation".
The unconfirmed claim was announced Monday by He Jiankui of China's Southern University of Science and Technology, who said he altered the DNA of embryos during fertility treatments with the goal of preventing the babies from becoming infected with HIV in the future. "Directly experimenting on human is nothing but insane ... as soon as a living human is produced, no one could predict what kind of impact it will bring, as the modified inheritable substance will inevitably blend into human genome pool", they wrote, adding that the trial is a "huge blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.
Then came a surprising, second twist: He's trial has resulted in "another potential pregnancy" of a genetically-edited human, though that pregnancy is in very early stages. Attendees pressed him on whether his team acted ethically while obtaining consent from the trial participants, on how he could prove the test's effectiveness while maintaining its subjects' anonymity and on what his ongoing responsibility is to the innovative new babies.
Genetic editing is banned in the USA for ethical reasons, including the risks it poses to DNA that can be passed on to future generations. He's gene-editing research involving twin babies born last month has sparked controversy.
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.
"We can't have a discussion if scientists are just going to barrel along and do what they want to do while the rest of us are sort of on the sidelines trying to have a conversation", she said.
He has said his lab used the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos. "I'm grateful that he appeared today, but I don't think that we heard answers". "We do not yet understand the full biological consequences of these actions even in small animals".
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Doudna is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports AP's Health & Science Department.
Meanwhile, Harvard University geneticist George Church called HIV "a major and growing public health threat", telling the Associated Press of He's gene editing: "I think this is justifiable". "It's an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society".
"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.
He's vague answers at the summit prompted more questions from the audience.
"None of the reported work has gone through the peer review process", and the conference is aimed at hashing out important issues such as whether and when gene editing is appropriate, she said. The risk of transmission of HIV for these couples would have been negligible, and there are well-established ways to prevent HIV transmission to the offspring of HIV-positive couples. Although China has no laws explicitly banning gene editing in babies, using the procedure does violate guidelines published by China's health ministry in 2003, and goes against global guidelines agreed to at a summit on the issue in 2015. "For this specific case, I feel proud, actually, I feel proudest".
The reaction from much of the scientific community was one of shock.
He's claims have not been confirmed by other scientists. Sandy B. Goodman of the Reproductive Medicine Group in Tampa.
But genome editing could also more controversially used for genetic enhancements, such as ensuring children have a particular desirable characteristic such as a certain eye colour. Editing particular sequences can change those messages, and CRISPR/Cas9 is the tool that can do that.