China baby gene editing claim ‘dubious’

China baby gene editing claim 'dubious'
Significant doubts have emerged about claims from a Chinese scientist that he has helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies. Prof He Jiankui says the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had their DNA altered as embryos to prevent them from contracting HIV. His claims, filmed by Associated Press, are unverified and have sparked outrage from other scientists, who have called the idea monstrous. Such work is banned in most countries. Gene editing could potentially help avoid heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos. But experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could cause harm not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit these same changes. And many countries, including the UK, have laws that prevent the use of genome editing in embryos for assisted reproduction in humans. Scientists can do gene editing research on discarded IVF embryos, as long as they are destroyed immediately afterwards and not used to make a baby. But Prof He, who was educated at Stanford in the US and works from a lab in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, says he used gene-editing tools to make two twin baby girls, known as “Lulu” and “Nana”. In a video, he claims to have eliminated a gene called CCR5 to make the girls resistant to HIV should they ever come into contact with the virus. He says his work is about creating children who would not suffer from diseases, rather than making designer babies with bespoke eye colour or a high IQ. “I understand my work will be controversial – but I believe families need this technology and I’m willing to take the criticism for them,” he says in the video. However, several organisations, including a hospital, linked to the claim have denied any involvement. The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said it had been unaware of the research project and will now launch an investigation. And other scientists say if the reports are true, Prof He has gone too far, experimenting on healthy embryos without justification. Prof Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies and Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College London, said: “If this is a false report, it is scientific misconduct and deeply irresponsible. “If true, it is still scientific misconduct.”

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