.- A Chinese scientist says he has created the first genetically edited babies, a claim that has led members of the scientific community to raise serious ethical concerns.
Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims that he altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.
He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.
The researcher says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.
Scientists have been divided in their response to the claims, with some praising the goal of eliminating HIV and others warning that such human experimentation is risky and unethical.
Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert on gene editing at the University of Pennsylvania, called the reported procedure “an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” according to the Associated Press.
Musunuru noted that if the procedure successfully disabled the CCR5 gene, it would leave the individual at increased risk of other medical complications, including contracting West Nile virus and dying from the flu.
Critics have also questioned whether participants fully understood what they were agreeing to, and have noted that He did not give official notice of his work until long after he had begun.
He, however, said he told participants that the procedure was experimental and carried risks. He said he would provide insurance for the children created through the project. The researcher said he believes the technology can help families, and that it is his duty to develop the technology and then let society decide what to do with it.
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