Research paper alleges China CRISPR babies have “unintended mutations”

December 16, 2019

Dr. He Jiankui’s revolutionary approach to gene-editing may have created problematic “off-target” mutations instead of conferring natural HIV resistance, according to a manuscript released recently. Dr. He’s paper, made public for the first time, contains “a litany of flaws, omissions, deceptions, and egoistical claims” which surround Chinese twins Lula and Nana, created through the CRISPR/Cas9 technique. The powerful technology can edit/correct specific stretches of genetic code to treat genetic causes of disease but can also destroy fragile cells. Dr. He sought to create humans resistant to HIV by leveraging the natural immunity produced from a mutation in a gene called CCR5.

However, because Dr. He did not reproduce the gene mutation required, Fyodor Urnov, a genome-editing scientist at the University of California, Berkeley claimed “a deliberate falsehood and blatant misrepresentation of actual data.”

The research team also apparently disregarded evidence that the genome edits were not uniform – some parts of the twins’ bodies may still be fully vulnerable to HIV while the HIV immunity itself is not sure to work as intended.

Dr. Rita Vassena, Scientific Director of assisted reproduction company Eugin Group, was disappointed in the paper, “I was hoping to see a reflective and mindful approach to gene editing in human embryos; unfortunately, it reads more like an attempt to find a defensible reason to use CRISPR/Cas9 technology in human embryos at all costs.”

CRISPR’s use in humans is hugely controversial, in regards to ethical and scientific norms, but the twins parents’ may have been driven to participate in the experiment despite the risks, according to reproductive endocrinologist Jeanne O’Brien, of US-based Shady Grove Fertility. The Chinese fertility doctors/obstetricians may not have known they were helping create the first gene-edited babies either.


Category: Community, Features

Comments are closed.