Chinese Clinical Trial Registry (ChiCTR) which is an official platform and catalog for registering a clinical trials in China proves that this month researchers from Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen conducted an experiment of creating babies with edited genes. The news is really recent, the last official information about this issue has been refreshed on 26th of November and there is still a lot of uncertainty…
Scientific title of this research is “Evaluation of safety and efficacy of gene with human embryo CCR5 gene”. CCR5 is responsible for being resistant (or not) to HIV. Tool used by Chinese scientists is called CRISP. It enables to edit certain genes in an in vitro fertilization. Human embryos are changed before transferring them into women’s uterus. He Jiankui, the leader of this experiment, did not want to answer all the questions, he posted a video on Youtube explaining cursorily the project, but he refuses to comment on anything else.
Source: The He Lab Youtube channel
Source: Cambridge University Press
It is undoubtedly an enormous step for medical as well as technological world, but it brings serious threats too. Any gene editing can cause “off target” mutations. Many specialists are concerned that this can go into wrong direction. Feng Zhang, a Chinese-American biochemist, member of the Board Institute of MIT and Harvard, said: Although I appreciate the global threat posed by HIV, at this stage, the risks of editing embryos to knock out CCR5 seem to outweigh the potential benefits”. Vice-director of the Tsinghua University Comprehensive AIDS Research Center, Zhang Lin-Qi claims that “The consequences are impossible to predict”. Fyodor Urnov, associate director of the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences feels “regret and concern over the fact that gene editing—a powerful and useful technique—was put to use in a setting where it was unnecessary.” However, He Jiankui believes that his experiment “will surpass” the development of in vitro fertilization. The solution to infertility gave Robert Edwards Nobel Prize in 2010. Does He deserve one too?
Gene-editing arouses a few social and moral dilemmas. Will gene-editing become a prevention, health advantage like vaccinations for privileged group of people? Or maybe people will choose physical and personality traits for their children? Where is the line between development and interference with a nature of human? How will it affect an average person? Can it change or control the evolution? Will we wake up one day and say it is too late to bring back genetic balance into our society? For now, we have to answer this questions by ourselves.
It’s worth mentioning that currently usage of genetically modified embryo while establishing a pregnancy is illegal in Europe. It is also prohibited in China. We do not know whether He got special authority or did it unlawfully. He’s media spokesman, Ryan Ferrell didn’t respond whether the project is legal.