First Ever CRISPR Edited Genetically Modified Babies Made in China
A microplate from He Jiankui’s lab, containing genetically edited embryos whose genes have been edited.Credit: Schiefelbein/Associated Press
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First Ever CRISPR Edited Genetically Modified Babies Made in China

CRISPR, the most powerful gene editing technique leads the list hot topic of discussion in the scientific research community pertaining to its ethical concerns. Latest CRISPR based research has shown promising results like curing Inherited Blood Disorders, HIV, Blindness, Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis and much more. Yet the fear haunts the scientific community that this powerful technique may be misused. Discussions on the same have risen again over the announcement by a Chinese scientist who claims he has created worlds first genetically edited babies using CRISPR.

The announcement came on Monday, that He Jiankui of Shenzhen, a research scientist from Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen has genetically altered an embryo gene before implanting it in the womb with an idea to make the newborn baby

He Jiankui speaks during an interview at a laboratory in Shenzhen. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

resistant to HIV infection. He claims he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments out of which one pregnancy has resulted in giving birth to twin baby girls. The concerned parents have declined to reveal their identity and do not want to be interviewed either, Jiankui said. However, neither he has published the research data in any journal, nor he has displayed any evident data to prove his claims.

He Jiankui, also claims that a U.S Scientist named Dr. Michael Deem who works at Rice University as a bioengineering professor also was a part of the project in China as CRISPR research on human babies is banned in the united states.

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In an announcement made during the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, Dr. He described that he recruited many couples suffering from HIV already and then via IVF he edited the embryos by the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to disable a gene called CCR₅ that were resistant to HIV. His experiment proved to be successful when the twin girls were born this November without any side effects visible, as per Dr. He’s statement. Earlier Dr. He had also presented his work on editing the CCR₅ gene in the embryos of nine couples at a conference on genome engineering at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

The Scientists describes the entire procedure that he followed to create the modified embryos, which is as follows:

During the IVF procedure, first, the sperm was washed in order to separate it from the semen where the HIV virus sustains. Followed by placing single sperm into a single leading to the formation on an embryo, post which CRISPR was used.

In the second stage when the When the embryos grew 3 to 5 days old, some cells were removed and checked for editing results. Out of 22embryoss, 16 were edited as per the choice of the couples involved. Further, only 11 genetically modified embryos were used in six implant attempts, out of which one couple gave birth to the twin girls. As per test results, one of the twins born had both the copies of the altered gene, while the other had just one copy, He said.

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However, scientists across the globe after the reviewing the work provided to Associated Press said that the tests results are insufficient to prove that the editing worked 100% correctly without any side effects. Also, some suggested that the embryo editing work was incomplete as one twin had a patchwork of cells with a lot of changes.

Meanwhile, Concerned health and ethics authorities in China have ordered a probe to thoroughly investigate the claims by the scientist. China’s National Health Commission in a statement expressed its high concerns over this issue and released orders for provincial health officials to investigate the matter. “We have to be responsible for the people’s health and will act on this according to the law,” it said in a statement. Also, a group of 122 Chinese scientists expressed their views calling Dr. He actions crazy as it a huge blow to the reputation of the Chinese research & development community on a global scale.

More reactions & feedbacks are expected to flow in from the research community in the coming days. It would be interesting to see if the claims made by the scientist turns out to be true. If he indeed succeeded in editing the embryo successfully without any lingering side effects, it would be a major breakthrough in CRISPR research, which may lead to opening doors for further research in this field.

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