Chinese Officials, Scientists Decry Gene Editing Used For CRISPR Babies

Spencer PlattGetty Images

The possibility of gene editing has inspired countless movies, including Gattaca and Rampage, and it has been used with animals in lab-controlled experiments. According to Reuters, geneticist He Jiankui recently claimed that he used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to alter the genes of two twin girls in the embryonic stage. If this claim is true, Jiankui is the first known scientist to employ these techniques on human beings.

China’s science and technology ministry released a statement indicating that the geneticist’s claims stand in direct opposition to the nation’s long-term prohibition against human gene editing. Furthermore, 120 Chinese scientists have signed a letter decrying the usage of CRISPR for human embryo gene editing. Reuters reported that this letter called the procedure “risky” and “unjustified.”

He Jiankui has defended his actions, which he hopes will provide the twin girls with complete protection against HIV infection. As Inquisitr previously pointed out, Jiankui claims to have altered the genes of seven embryos. This experiment resulted in one pregnancy, which recently led to the birth of twins Nana and Lulu.

MIT Technology Review indicated that an investigation has been launched into Jiankui’s claims and actions. The Medical Ethics Experts Board of Shenzhen City has found that Jiankui didn’t file all the reports that are legally required, which means the scientist could face serious professional and legal repercussions.

The paperwork that Jiankui did fill out included a signature that was supposedly from a representative of Harmonicare Medical Holdings. The company has told media sources that no one from Harmonicare signed any paperwork related to Jiankui’s CRISPR work. They also deny having had any knowledge of the geneticist’s human embryo experiments.

Several other companies were listed on Jiankui’s paperwork, and they’ve all denied being involved, too. Many Chinese and international commissions have called for an immediate investigation into these claims, including a determination of whether or not Jiankui actually altered the embryos.

Scientific research into CRISPR technology has shown some very promising possibilities. Working with animal models, scientists have found potential cures for everything from cystic fibrosis to muscular dystrophy.

Per National Geographic, the use of a gene-altering is very controversial, even with the upside of removing serious diseases. That’s because undergoing this procedure requires taking a risk with the person’s life. Additionally, if the alterations are successful, they will affect the rest of that person’s genetic line forever. The Associated Press reports that for similar reasons this type of gene editing is also banned in the U.S. because the changes to the DNA can pass on to future generations — risking harm to other genes.

It’s unknown at this time how that could positively or negatively change the future of the entire human race. As a result, most people in the biomedical scientific community have not publicly expressed any support for human CRISPR trials.