We said "do not be scared", when scientists first used Crispr to edit the DNA in non-viable human embryos. When they tested it with embryos that, in theory, could produce babies, we said "do not be scared". Many years and years of boring scientific studies remain before anyone can think about putting it near a woman's uterus. Well, we could have been wrong. Permission to press the panic button granted.
On Sunday night, a Chinese researcher surprised the world by claiming to have created the first human babies, a set of twins, with the DNA edited by Crispr. "Two beautiful Chinese girls, Lulu and Nana, came crying to the world as healthy as any other baby a few weeks ago," said the scientist, He Jiankiu, in the first of five promotional videos published on YouTube hours later. MIT Technology Review he broke the news
The WIRED guide by Crispr
It is reported that Lulu and Nana have a genetic mutation, courtesy of Crispr, which makes it difficult for HIV to invade and infect their white blood cells. The claim, which has not yet been verified or independently supported by the published data, has provoked furious criticism, international outrage and multiple investigations. The scientific protest has been so fast because the supposed work of Him, conducted in secret, levels the existing ethical orientation in the so-called "germinal line edition", in which modifications to the DNA of an embryo will be transmitted to subsequent generations.
What is perhaps more strange is not that he ignored the global recommendations for responsible research of Crispr in humans. He also ignored his own advice for the world, guidelines that were published within hours of his transgression becoming public.
On Monday, he and his colleagues at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, published a set of preliminary ethical principles "to frame, guide and restrict the clinical applications that communities around the world can share and localize based on. religious beliefs, culture and public health challenges. "Those principles included transparency and only performing the procedure when the risks are overcome by a serious medical need.
The piece appeared in the The Crispr newspaper, a young publication dedicated to the investigation, commentary and debate of Crispr. Rodolphe Barrangou, editor in chief of the magazine, where the peer-reviewed perspective appeared, says that the article was one of the two that he had recently published about the ethical concerns of editing the human germ line, the other by a specialist in bioethics at the University of North Carolina. . The authors of both articles requested that their writings come out before a major summit of gene editing that will take place this week in Hong Kong. When half of the rumors about his undercover job came to Barrangou over the weekend, his team discussed how to remove the paper, but finally decided there was nothing too solid to discredit him, according to the information available at the time.
Now Barrangou and his team are reconsidering that decision. On the one hand, He did not reveal any conflict of interests, which is a standard practice among respectable magazines. Since then, it is clear that not only is he in command of several genetics companies in China, but he has also been actively investigating controversial human research long before drafting a moral and scientific code to guide him. "We are currently evaluating whether the omission was a matter of mismanagement or bad intention," says Barrangou, adding that the magazine is now conducting an audit to see if a retraction can be justified. "It is disconcerting to see the authors present an ethical framework in which one must work on the one hand and, at the same time, do something that directly contravenes at least two of the five of its enunciated principles."
One is transparency. Report by Technical review Y The Associated Press has raised questions about whether he cheated trial participants and Chinese regulators in their ambitions to create Crispr's first baby. Two is medical necessity.
Take the gene that He's group chose to edit: CCR5. It encodes a receptor that HIV uses to infiltrate white blood cells, like a key to a closed door. Without key, without access. Other controversial topics of Crispr have tried to correct defective versions of the genes responsible for hereditary disorders, often incurable, returning them to the healthy version. In contrast, the disabled group normal copies of CCR5 to reduce the risk of possible future infection with HIV, a disease that can be prevented, treated and controlled easily by means that do not involve changing someone's DNA forever. Drugs, condoms, needle exchange programs are all reasonable alternatives.
"There are all kinds of questions that raise these problems, but the most fundamental is the risk-benefit relationship for the babies that are going to be born," says Hank Greely, an ethicist at Stanford University. "And the risk-benefit relationship in this stink: Any institutional review board that approves it must be dissolved if it is not incarcerated."
Report by State He indicates that he may have gone overboard and tried to pile up a self-guided ethics education in a few months. The young scientist – records indicate that he is only 34 years old – has a background in biophysics, with studies in the United States at Rice University and in the bioengineering laboratory Stephen Quake at Stanford. Your resume is not read as if someone were deeply rooted in the nuances and ethics of human research. Barrangou says it came up in the many rounds of editions that the frame went through. "The editorial team spent a significant amount of time improving both the language and the content," he says.
It is too early to tell if his trick will bring him fame or simply infamy. He is still scheduled to speak at the human genome edition summit on Wednesday and Thursday. And the central government of China in Beijing has not yet arrived in one way or another. The condemnation would turn him into a rogue and a scientific outcast. Anything else opens the door for the emergence of an artisanal IVF Crispr industry in China and potentially elsewhere. "It's hard to imagine that this was the only group in the world that did this," says Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis stem cell researcher who wrote a book about the future of designer babies called OGM Sapiens. "Some might say that this broke the ice, will others go ahead and publish their results or stop what they are doing and see how this develops?"
What happens next makes all the difference. The fact that there are now two babies with a gene changed by Crispr to a less common form does not change the world overnight. What changes the world is how society reacts, and if it decides that such DNA alteration procedures become common.
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