Breaking News Emails
Receive last minute alerts and special reports. News and stories that matter, delivered the mornings of the week.
By Maggie Fox
The Chinese researcher who surprised and scandalized the scientific world by claiming to have genetically edited a pair of binoculars, alone and without official permission, said Wednesday that he was proud of what he had done.
He Jiankui, from South China University of Science and Technology, presented some of the details of his work at a meeting on genome editing in Hong Kong. He added that the binoculars Lulu and Nana were healthy babies and that he thought that another patient might be pregnant with a genetically modified embryo.
He said he was working to help people with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), but that he had suspended his work for now, while defending his methods. "For this specific case, I'm proud," he told a large audience at the meeting.
"Lulu and Nana are born normal and healthy."
This was the first evidence that the public had seen what he had done: genetically alter two early human embryos, then implant them into a woman, which brought them to term. He promised to publish his research in a scientific journal.
If that were true, it would be the first time that a human being was genetically altered in this way.
The complaint has angered and worried other field researchers, who said it was dangerous, irresponsible and unethical.
"It is deeply regrettable that the first apparent application of this powerful technique to the human germline has been achieved so irresponsibly," said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in a blog post.
The meeting was intended to discuss the field of gene editing, which advances slowly and cautiously because of issues surrounding work, the risks it poses for unborn children who will be doing the same. subject of experiments and questions that it raises. for society as a whole.
Dr. David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate, Senior AIDS Researcher and Immunology Expert, described He as irresponsible. Baltimore, who supports a moratorium on editing human genes, said his experiment was medically unnecessary. "I do not think it's a transparent process. We only learned about it later, and we feel left out, "Baltimore told the Hong Kong meeting.
"It is impossible to exaggerate how irresponsible, unethical and dangerous it is. A thorough investigation will be needed to determine exactly what happened and if approvals were in place before the start of the experiment, "says Stem Cell Biologist Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute (UK) in a communicated.
Genome editing is a relatively new scientific technique that can be used to accurately modify the DNA of cells. A process called CRISPR-cas9 is the best-known tool for genome editing and promises to be a breakthrough compared to the less accurate methods currently used to genetically engineer cells, which often use a virus to insert a new DNA and may have unexpected results.
Genome editing, as opposed to genetic engineering, is intended to permanently alter the DNA of all cells in an organism. Scientists approach the issue with caution because of the risk of unintended consequences that could haunt not only the patient but also his offspring.
Most countries have laws or regulations totally banning experiments on human beings or making it very difficult to perform work.
He circumvented the moratorium imposed by the scientific community on his work. He stated that he was working outside the laboratories and procedures of his university, but officials from the Southern University of Science and Technology said that they were investigating.
Usually, when working on human beings, researchers must obtain permission from their institutions as well as from their governments. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates experiments on people. Legitimate scientists also typically publish their work in journals or conferences, employ staff to review methods and processes, and also ask other known experts in the same field to review reports before they are published.
The latter, who had extensively described his work at the Associated Press before the conference, apologized for his "escape". He explained that he was trying to help people living with HIV and was working with a group of well educated and deeply informed parents who knew what they were getting into.
He said he genetically modified a gene called CCR5, a well-researched DNA segment that can make people resistant to HIV infection. People carrying certain versions of the CCR5 gene are rarely infected with HIV, even when they are exposed to it.
He added that the father of the twins was infected with HIV and that the mother was not infected. Its goal was to develop babies that were genetically resistant to HIV.
He used a common fertility method called intracytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI to create embryos in a lab box and then genetically modified their DNA. A twin has two copies of the desired CCR5 gene while the other has a copy, he said.
He explained that he had first experimented on mice, then on monkeys and finally on human embryos that could never develop before finally trying his method on a viable embryo.
He said that he had paid for the treatment himself, which Niakan described as a conflict of interest. "Her presentation did nothing to quell my scientific, moral or ethical concerns about the work," she said. "The team does not appear to have received adequate training on appropriate consent procedures, and offering free IVF treatment to vulnerable patients presents a clear conflict of interest."
NIH's Collins said he had "posted" international standards.
"For the avoidance of doubt, and as we said earlier, NIHs do not support the use of gene editing technologies in human embryos," he said. declared.
Bryan Michael Galvan contributed.