Rogue Scientist Who Created Genetically Modified Babies Defends Controversial Work

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He Jiankui a Chinese researcher speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong

Chinese university professor He Jiankui posted a video on YouTube saying the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The academic, from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, faced an onslaught of questions from the media and his peers, most of whom have raised doubts about his claims or condemned his brashness, given ethical and medical concerns about a clinical procedure that is banned in most countries, including China.

The Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies said Wednesday the trial had been "paused", following an global outcry over the highly controversial procedure.

The work is a "serious violation of academic ethics and standards", it said.

Associate Professor He's research focuses on genome sequencing technology, bioinformatics and genome editing, according to his biography on the summit's website. Musunuru also said there's evidence other genes were edited unintentionally, potentially increasing the twins' risk for cancer.

Others, such as Harvard University's George Church, said that HIV is "a major and growing public health threat" which would justify such attempts, however.

But the claim "really reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene-editing in human embryos to settings where there's a clear unmet medical need and where there's no alternative viable approach", says Doudna. All the male subjects had their HIV infections suppressed by HIV medicines that are now easily available all over the world and there are ways to keep the infection from spreading to their babies that already exist and they do not involve and gene altering. 'This would be a highly irresponsible, unethical and risky use of genome editing technology.

Scientists sharply criticized He's work and many institutions distanced themselves from him.

The team planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in hopes of rendering the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

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Gene editing is banned in Britain, the United States many other parts of the world, largely because its long-term effects on mental and physical health are poorly understood.

Professor Joyce Harper, professor in genetics and human embryology at London's UCL, said: "Today's report of genome editing human embryos for resistance to HIV is premature, unsafe and irresponsible".

However, with the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, set to begin in Hong Kong tomorrow, this news is certain to attract plenty of eyeballs from some of the foremost people in the CRISPR domain.

David Baltimore, a biologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, said it is also unknown what the effect will be generations in the future. He, a Stanford and Rice University trained physicist, said he used the technique CRISPR to help a married Chinese couple conceive twins immune to HIV.

If it is true, the experiment is deeply controversial. Then on Wednesday he revealed there had been another pregnancy involving a gene-edited baby.

Prof He also said that the study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal.

"We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being".

There is wide scientific agreement that rewriting DNA before birth - to prevent an inherited disease or to give a baby some "designer" trait - isn't yet safe to try outside laboratory experiments that do not lead to human births. The first modification of human embryos was reported by another Chinese team in May 2015. "And I'm willing to take the criticism for them", He said.

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