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On November 26, He Jiankui, a scientist at Southern University of Science and Technology, announced that a pair of genetically edited babies named Lulu and Nana were born in China in November. The genes of the twins have been modified to make them naturally resistant to AIDS after birth. If this news is true, this is the world’s first genetically edited baby that is immune to AIDS. It also means that China has made a historic breakthrough in the field of disease prevention technology for gene editing.

He Jiankui will present his experimental data at the 2nd International Human Genome Editors’ Summit, which will begin tomorrow. He Jiankui said that he changed the embryos of seven couples during the fertility treatment. So far, one pregnancy has occurred. He said that his goal is not to cure or prevent hereditary diseases, but to try to give a characteristic that few people naturally possess – to resist the ability to infect HIV in the future.


He Jiankui (Source: Southern University of Science and Technology)

He said that the participants in the trial refused to disclose their identity or were interviewed. He declined to disclose where they live and where they work. At present, the industry has not confirmed it professionally, nor published it in magazines, and will be reviewed by other experts.

Earlier, He Jiankui revealed the news in an interview with the Associated Press. He told the Associated Press: “I feel a strong responsibility. This is not just a precedent. It is also an example. The society will decide whether the next step is to allow or prohibit such science.”

In recent years, scientists have discovered a relatively simple method of genetic editing, which is to control the DNA chain of the human body. The tool, called Crispr-Cas9, enables it to operate on DNA, causing the required genes or genes that cause disease to fail.

It has only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases through genetic editing, which are limited to mature individuals. Editing sperm, eggs, or embryos is different because these changes are inherited. In the United States, except for laboratory research, this type of operation is not allowed. China currently bans the cloning of human beings, but there is no specific regulation for the new technology of genetic editing.

Genetic modification of human embryos. A photo of the 11/08 archive shows that the embryo was placed on an instant frozen glass plate and scientists were first allowed to genetically engineer the human embryo. Image source: ben birchar/pa wirex-pa

He Jiankui studied at Rice University and Stanford University in the United States, then returned to China, opened a laboratory at the South China University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, and two genetic companies in Shenzhen. After returning to China, the American scientist, physics and bioengineering professor Michael Dem, who is working with him on this project, is He Jiankui’s consultant in Houston.

He Jiankui said that he worked in the laboratory for several years as an editor of mice, monkeys and human embryos, and applied for a patent. He chose to try embryonic gene editing for HIV because these infections are a big problem in China. He tried to disable a gene called CCR5, a protein on white blood cells and one of the major co-receptors of HIV-invading cells. Individuals with CCR5 deletion possess normal immune function and inflammatory response, and have significant resilience to a variety of viral infections, so genetic editing for CRR5 can bring about the antiviral effects demonstrated by theory.

CCR5 protein 3D structure (Source: wikipedia)

He said that all men in the project are infected with HIV, not all women, but genetic editing is not intended to reduce the risk of transmission. The concentration of infectious virus in men is suppressed to a very low level by conventional HIV drugs, and genetic editing can prevent them from infecting the infected genes to future generations. This provides an opportunity for couples affected by HIV to give them the opportunity to have children, so that future generations are not affected by similar fates.

For this news, some genetic editors have expressed their views. Dr. Kelan Musu Nuru, a genetic editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of the journal Genetics, criticized the trial as “unreasonable… an experiment that is unethical or ethical to humans.” “. Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research and Translation Institute in California, also said: “It is still too early.”

Even if the editor works perfectly, people without the normal CCR5 gene are at higher risk of infecting certain other viruses and dying from the flu. Musu Nuru said that there are many ways to prevent HIV infection, and even if there is infection, there are ways to treat it. Therefore, these other medical risks are a matter of concern.

However, the famous geneticist, George Church of Harvard University, believes that AIDS is “a major and growing public health threat,” Church said of the goal of editing HIV genes. I think this is scientifically justified.”

We will continue to pay attention to the further development of this event.


Commentary excerpt:


Pharmer: This matter is far beyond the existing norms of medical ethics, and it will inevitably lead to an uproar. Researchers are also painstaking in order to grab the first, and the reason why others do not be bound by ethics. Explain that we still lack control in China!

Sense (朔): I feel that this is an ethical issue. Is there a congenital hidden danger first, and whether the second will bring about human ethnic barriers? Is the third genetically modified or genetically edited offspring a descendant of his own?

Dingfengbo: Pandora’s Box has been opened…

Jay: It’s terrible. Is there any problem with this operation for the time being? The problem is that the approval process is too childish? It is easy to approve this and it is easy to approve other genetic editing for human embryos.

Prosperity: The human body is so sophisticated, so artificially modified, hopefully there will be no other adverse consequences.

Soul Seeds: Viruses are susceptible to mutations, and invisible defects in the immune system are unpredictable. Other negative effects were not assessed. A little bit. . .

Liang Binxi: In the end, can you resist AIDS? I am afraid I have to experiment to know. But who dares to do this experiment?

The shackles of small things: This matter is true and false, and human beings cannot give themselves unnecessary shackles.

Liu Xiaochen: I feel terrible. Everything is still in keeping with nature.

Almost: Wait, is there really a small number of people who are naturally resistant to AIDS?

John lee: Hope is real! Rather than a thief

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