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A Chinese scientist talks about the controversial birth of genetically manipulated babies

November 28, 2018 – 10:47


Agencia EFE

Chinese scientist He Jiankui justified the creation of the first genetically modified baby in the world on Wednesday without any institutional support and announced that another woman was pregnant with an embryo whose genes were also altered.

The scientist announced on Monday that he had used the CRISPR / Cas9 technique in two twins to be resistant to diseases such as HIV, a revelation that caused controversy and suspicion to both the public and scientific communities inside and outside China.

Read also: Chinese scientists would create embryos with a genome modified against HIV

The scientist planned to participate in a symposium on the release of the human genome at the University of Hong Kong, which today generated a great academic and media interest in the university campus where the conference was held.

"The study gave effective results and was delivered to the review" to the scientific community, he said.

The geneticist – who acknowledged his experiment was not confirmed by any official institution – said that the allegedly genetically-regulated twins, Lulu and Nana, "were born healthy and happy" due to in vitro fertilization with genetic modification technology "which will prevent them from becoming infected with HIV . "

However, he then announced that in his clinical trials he would stop "because of the controversy" that arose.

"All the excitement is due to the leak of news about my study," he estimated, who came "before it was expected" and the conference moderator, Robin Lovell-Badge, confirmed that organizers did not know anything about the experiment

The scientist was "proud" of the use of the CRISPR / Cas9 gene editing technique and stressed that the study was not aimed at eliminating genetic diseases, but that "a child gives natural abilities" to resist the possible future of HIV infections.

"Although progress has been made in the treatment of HIV, new infections continue to be a problem for many countries, especially the least developed," he added.

He said that he experimented with seven couples, with one of his HIV-infected members, and announced that there was at least one pregnancy between them "at an early stage" and others more "possible."

"We worked with seven couples in which the husband is the carrier of the AIDS virus, and the woman is not," he said and specified that he used up to eleven embryos in six attempts to implant.

In a rather vague way, he hinted that he himself funded the experiment, "did not secretly take it" and reported it to scientists from China, the United States and the United Kingdom, although he did not mention any names.

"There are people who need help and we have technology," he said, noting that parents were familiar with the risks in the experiment and showed their consent.

He also thanked the University of Science and Technology of the southern city of Shenzhen with whom he worked "although they do not know" what he was doing.

On Monday, the same university announced it would investigate scientists and said it feels "deeply shocked by the subject," which it described as "seriously violating ethics and academic standards."

The Chinese authorities, on the other hand, today announced that they are "very worried" about the case, which will "seriously" address when it clarifies what happened.

Chinese Vice President of Science and Technology Xu Nanping reminded the media that China restricts in vitro research of human embryonic stem cells to a maximum of 14 days in accordance with the ethical guidelines issued in 2003.

More than 120 scientists from the Chinese science community said on Monday in a statement published on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that "every attempt" to change in human embryos through genetic modifications is "crazy" and that the light bears these babies " high risk ".

On a global level, Nature magazine joined the debate on Monday and said that this statement caused "anxiety" among the international scientific community and that, if true, "would represent a significant leap in the use of modification of the human genome".

Nature has pointed out that this type of tool is only used so far to study its benefits in eliminating disease-causing mutations, adding that the scientific community "long sought" the creation of ethical guidelines, long before such a case would arise.

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