Editor's note: The National Health Commission has ordered an investigation into claims made by a Chinese scientist that he has created the world's first genetically edited babies. A video posted on You-Tube by university professor He Jiankui said the twin girls, who he called Lulu and Nana, had been born a few weeks ago, through in-vitro fertilization with the genetic editing technology CRISPR used to alter their DNA to prevent them from contracting HIV. The claim has been greeted with a storm of criticism. China Daily writer Zhang Zhouxiang summarizes some of the reactions from scientists and medical professionals:
(SHI YU / CHINA DAILY)
Possible risk to human gene pool
"Mad" is the only word suitable to describe the so-called research. As a gene-editing tool, CRISPR has long been controversial, and any attempt to genetically edit human embryos and allow them to grow into babies is highly risky before there is strict testing to ensure its accuracy and rule out any negative effects.
We do not mean the two children born this time are necessarily unhealthy, but the lack of procedural supervision might pose a threat to the future human gene pool as the effects will be passed on from generation to generation.
Besides, He's deed might defame Chinese scientists as a whole, which makes it unfair to Chinese scientists who work hard and strictly follow the ethical bottom line. We call for the regulatory departments to supervise the incident and prevent any attempt at opening a Pandora's box.
As medical and biological professionals, we firmly object and strongly condemn any attempt at editing human embryo genes without strict ethical and safety approval.
An open letter co-signed by 122 scientists
Unwise as CCR5 gene also vital to immune system
It is irrational and unwise to edit the CCR5 gene of a healthy human embryo, because the gene is of importance to the normal functioning of human immune cells. Before we can be 100 percent sure about the reliability of CCR5 editing, the technology should not be used on humans.
Besides, even if a mother carries HIV, there is safe and reliable technology that has a 98 percent chance of preventing the newborn from being infected.
Zhang Linqi, a medical professor from Tsinghua University and Chen Zhiwei, a professor on AIDS prevention research from the University of Hong Kong, via their WeChat public account
Embryos unable to give their consent
As a doctor with knowledge about medical ethics, I feel worried about the experiment. According to the law, medical tests can only be done with the consent of the subjects, or people who receive the tests, while the plan must be safe and the subjects' privacy be protected.
In He's case, the two babies as subjects were put into a test before they were born, so it was impossible to obtain their consent in advance. It was improper for the parents to give their consent instead of them.
Besides, the researchers claimed their "research" can make the babies immune to HIV. How will they prove that? And will they subject the two newborns to tests in the future? That is illegal and will only further violate the two children's rights.
Wang Guangbao, a doctor in Zhejiang province, with 2.5 million followers on Sina weibo
Violation of bottom line, not a breakthrough
A main reason for the incident having aroused so much attention is some people have misunderstood He's deeds as a "breakthrough in technology". Actually, the technology has long existed, and all he did was to apply it in a field where no medical professional had dared go before. So his deed is far from a scientific breakthrough. It is more a violation of the ethical bottom line.
Xie Mochao, editor-in-chief of guokr.com, China's largest science-popping website
Gene editing has already reaped many benefits
It is irresponsible to edit human genes without safety and ethical approvals, but do not defame the technology of geneediting, which is neutral and has already produced many benefits. It is better to limit the technology in transparent ways, and ensure that its use is under control.
Tang Cheng, a research fellow in gene-editing studies at the Institute of Neroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Scientist at center of storm previously urged caution
We should take a very careful view toward gene-editing technology, because any failure might lead to the doom of the whole research field.
He Jiankui in a 2017 speech
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