First CRISPR babies born in Shenzhen

Twin girls!  What could be more wonderful news to worrisome new parents?  In a ground breaking, but controversial development, Prof He Jiankui and his team at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China announced that they have facilitated the first live births of twin girls whose DNA molecules were altered with CRISPR-cas9 gene editing technology. Prof He explained his research efforts aimed to immunise babies with “lifetime resistance” to HIV for eight enrolled couples all with HIV-positive fathers.  

Prof He’s research was strongly criticised in Hong Kong at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing. Nobel Laureate David Baltimore characterised the work as unethical and scientifically invalid. Geneticists and biomolecular engineers fear that rogue research efforts will result in national or international moratoriums on technology development which could interfere with legitimate and valid biomedical research that might truly revolutionise human health.  

Yesterday, the Hong Kong conference organisers rebuked He and declared, “At this summit we heard an unexpected and deeply disturbing claim that human embryos had been edited and implanted, resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of twins. We recommend an independent assessment to verify this claim and to ascertain whether the claimed DNA modifications have occurred. Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms.  Its flaws include an inadequate medical indication, a poorly designed study protocol, a failure to meet ethical standards for protecting the welfare of research subjects, and a lack of transparency in the development, review, and conduct of the clinical procedures.” Prof He indicated there may be or might have been other pregnancies resulting from his procedures.


This story is featured in the 30 November 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.