Chinese Researcher’s Gene Editing Project Lands Him in Hot Water, But Could it Lead to Answers for Rare Disease Patients in Future?

One Chinese scientist has completed a research project that has shocked many in the medical community. Two twin baby girls born in November of 2018 where the recipients of his controversial experiment.

The researcher claims he altered the embryos of a set of twins. He accomplished this by altering the embryos of seven different couples. Only one couple became pregnant however. His purpose in the genome editing is to create a rare genetic variation in the genes that will make it less likely for the baby girls to contract HIV in their future. He also got rid of a white blood cells receptor called the CCR5. He did this by using a new genome editing technique: CRISPR-Cas9.

The researcher says his goal was to protect the twins from contracting HIV when they are older.

The medical community is split on his decision and experiment. There has been a large outpouring of criticism and some have called his actions, “ethically problematic” and even “monstrous.”

The changes he did were done in early stage embryos and would affect the germ line. This means that the changes he created would now be heritable. This type of experiment is not allowed in the United States, and it is uncertain if it is allowed in China currently.

Some scientists are speaking out and believe the experiment was done too early and could have potentially negative consequences that outweigh the “benefits.” One HIV/ AIDS researcher, Anthony Fauci, shared his opinion stating that because there are so many alternative ways to efficiently protect one’s self against HIV, resorting to editing an embryo’s genes seems unethical to him.

Still other scientists are waiting to learn more about the details of the experiment before they pass judgment on it.

Scientists are currently looking into the use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a treatment for many genetic diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia.

The researcher is scheduled to speak at a summit in late November and has put a series of videos explaining his reasoning for his decision on YouTube that are available to anyone.

Many people are simply hoping the twins will lead healthy lives. Gene editing is still experimental and CCR5 mutations make people more susceptible to serious reactions from West Nile viral infections and other health problems.

One pioneer at Berkeley, Jennifer Doudna, says the researcher’s work may point to the vital need to narrow down and refine gene editing in human embryos. In the future, it may be a viable way to help those with medical needs which no other option or approach can solve.

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