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Scientist who claims he edited twins' genes apologises … for result being leaked

29 November 2018
Scientist who claims he edited twins' genes apologises … for result being leaked

Dr. Dana Carol is a professor of biochemistry.

The university professor said the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut and paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease, but there are concerns about safety and ethics. The father of the babies in the study is HIV positive, a fact which motivated the study and the family's willingness to take part. "The study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review", he added.

Audience members applauded as the Stanford and Rice University trained physicist took the stage at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong Wednesday. He's announcement has, thus far, been overwhelmingly negative along with the validity of the claims being questioned.

The approach has been used previously to edit the HBB gene responsible for a condition called β-thalassaemia.

In 2012, he was recruited by a Chinese government-backed Thousand Talents Plan, which aims to bring leading global experts in science and technology to the country.

More than 100 scientists, mostly in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was unsafe and unjustified.

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

Additionally, Dr. He adamantly denies that his research and work in gene editing serves the objective of the infamous "designer baby" concept.

"For forty years, regulations and morals have developed together with IVF", he said in the video.

He said gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Such "off-target" effects are a common result of this form of gene editing and are one of the reasons many scientists believe it is still too early to test the technology on babies.

There has been no outside confirmation of He's claims, but geneticists and health policymakers say such claims raise grave ethical issues - including the prospect of creating designer babies, enhancing traits and even introducing exotic new traits.

In an interview before He's talk, Timothy Henrich, a translational HIV researcher at the University of California at San Francisco, said unless there was full editing of both copies of the gene, which does not appear to be the case for one of the twins, she would not have immunity.

The hospital said it would lodge a police complaint against He. At the summit, Paula Amato of the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland Ore., said her group planned to try to correct defects that increase the risk for breast cancer and Huntington's disease.

Jiankui He's host institution - the Southern University of Science and Technology - published a statement saying he had been on leave at the time of the trial and that it was not conducted at their institution.

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.

He said he worked with seven couples and 31 embryos, more than 20 of which were edited. Although no unintended consequences have yet been observed in this example, scientists overall point to years of study still needed before clinical treatment can ethically be conducted. He says it is totally inappropriate to use gene editing to select hair or eye color, or to boost IQ; such a use, he says in the video, "is not what a loving parent does".