TORONTO – Canadian researchers added their voices to the widespread international condemnation of a Chinese scientist who says he helped create twin girls genetically engineered using a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR.
The unconfirmed claim was announced Monday by He Jiankui, of the South China University of Science and Technology, who said he modified the DNA of the embryos during fertility treatments in order to prevent babies from becoming infected with the virus. HIV in the future.
These genetic modifications contravene international ethical guidelines and the laws of some countries that regulate the use of gene editing in human reproduction, what some call the slippery slope towards designer babies.
Dr. Janet Rossant, senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, warned that it is not clear if the research was carried out, since it was not published in a medical journal or verified by other scientists.
"But at first glance, this research has advanced towards the clinic well ahead of all the ethical consensus that is developing internationally," Rossant said Monday.
While the possibility of using CRISPR-Cas9 to remove or rearrange DNA fragments that support serious genetic diseases, the tool should only be used in humans once it is known to be completely safe and is governed by strict ethical standards, he said.
"The genetic modification he did was not to prevent a serious genetic disease, is what we would clbadify as an improvement, which is also something that the National Academies (Science, Engineering and Medicine) thought was not appropriate," he added.
Manipulating genes to prevent HIV infection, "we do not even know what the long-term consequences of that are, and anyway, there's no need to do that to those kids."
The alteration of the DNA in an ovum, sperm or human embryo is what is known as the germline edition, which would affect not only a resulting child, but also future generations. The risks of such manipulation are unknown, and leading scientists and medical organizations have called for a moratorium on its use, except in laboratory studies.
According to the Human Reproduction Act of Canada, such a germline edition is illegal and could be punished with up to 10 years in prison.
Sohnee Ahmed, president of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors, said that if the claim of the Chinese scientist is true, the birth of the first genetically altered babies of the word has advanced to scientific maturity and ethical considerations.
"Certainly, this is something the world of genetics would all think would happen one day, but I think we expected it to happen with a lot more regulation," said Ahmed, a genetic counselor at a private DNA testing laboratory in Toronto.
"I hope that the international organizations that have shown themselves firmly to this point that we do not want this to happen were firm, regardless of whether someone is dishonest," he said.
"And if something (they) really bent over to emphasize this is something that should not be happening right now, not without any supervision."
Tim Caulfield, professor of health and law at the University of Alberta, said that while the arrival of gene editing is exciting, the use of technology to reshape human DNA is "premature."
"I think there is an emerging international consensus that this research should progress, that we should have an open mind about how it could be applied in the future, but we are not in the state at this time where we want to use this." Technology in the clinic, "he said from Edmonton.
"The premature use of these technologies can have an adverse impact on the entire scientific field. I think it's very important that we move forward with care and in a transparent manner. "
On Monday, more than 100 scientists, mostly Chinese, signed a petition calling for greater oversight by their country in gene-editing experiments, while Southern University said it plans to investigate his claim, saying the work " It seriously violates ethics and academic standards. "
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