Scientists slam China gene-editing study, warn of freak mutations

Scientists slam China gene-editing study, warn of freak mutations

Scientists say a Chinese researcher's claim to have edited the DNA of the "CRISPR babies" and immunized them from HIV has been "a deliberate falsehood".

Research on the gene-editing experiment involving a pair of twin girls to immunise them against HIV has been published for the first time, and scientists are of the opinion that the study may have created "unintended mutations".

Excerpts from the manuscript were released by MIT Technology Review for the objective of showing how Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui ignored ethical and scientific norms in creating twins Lula and Nana, whose birth late a year ago sent shock waves through the scientific world.

Effective July 2018, access to full reports will only be available with a subscription. It is this gene that Jiankui claimed to have targeted using the powerful editing tool CRISPR.

Fyodor Urnov, a genome-editing scientist on the College of California, Berkeley instructed the MIT Know-how Evaluate: "The declare they've reproduced the prevalent CCR5 variant is a blatant misrepresentation of the particular information and may exclusively be described by one time period: a deliberate falsehood. The statement that embryo editing will help millions is equal parts delusional and outrageous".

Moreover, CRISPR remains an imperfect tool because it can lead to unwanted or "off-target" edits, making its use in humans hugely controversial. However, the search was not comprehensive, and the paper ignores an important point: that any cells taken from early-stage embryos would not actually contribute to the twins' bodies. "It is technically impossible to determine whether an edited embryo 'did not show any off-target mutations.' This is a key problem for the entirety of the embryo-editing field, one that the authors sweep under the rug here".

Dr Urnov called the claim "an egregious misrepresentation of the right records that can, but again, ideal be described as a blatant falsehood".

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The scientists believe that the parents of the twins wanted to partake in this experiment for the wrong reasons.

Their lack of access to any kind of fertility treatment may have motivated them to take part in the experiment despite the huge risks to their children, Jeanne O'Brien, a reproductive endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility told the MIT Technology Review.

Scientists noted other potential ethics issues in He's research, observing that Lulu and Nana's parents belonged to a "vulnerable patient group" due to their father being HIV-positive, which carries an intense stigma in China and might have barred the couple from ever receiving fertility treatment otherwise.

The researchers also seem to have made it hard to find the family by omitting the names of the fertility doctors and by stating a false date of birth.

Scientists are now saying that Jiankui's experiment may have failed.

Dr He's manuscript used to be submitted to journals in conjunction with Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association, nonetheless has no longer been officially published.

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