Hong Kong – A Chinese scientist says he helps to create the world's first genetically engineered baby: two twins whose DNA he says has changed trying to help them resist possible future infections of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
If true, it would be a profound leap in science and ethics.
The US scientist said he participated in Chinese work, but this type of genetic engineering is banned in his country because DNA changes can be passed on to future generations and damage other genes.
Many traditional scientists think it's too dangerous to try, so some say that the Chinese report is a human experiment.
Researcher He Jiankui, Shenzhen, said transforming seven pairs of embryos during fertility treatment and so far pregnancy was due. He said that his goal was not to cure or prevent hereditary disease, but to try to give a characteristic feature that few people naturally have: the ability to resist HIV-induced inflammation that is the virus that causes acquired AIDS syndrome.
He added that the parents involved refused to identify or interviewed, and he did not indicate where they lived or where the job was done.
His claim has not been independently confirmed and has not been published in a newspaper in which other experts could examine it. The announcement was unveiled on Monday in Hong Kong, one of the international conference conference on genetic modification, which begins on Tuesday and before the exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
"I feel a great responsibility for not only the first but also the example," he told AP. "Society decides what to do next" to allow or prohibit such science.
Some scientists were surprised when they heard the argument and strongly condemned it.
It's "incomprehensible … experimenting with people who are not morally or ethically defenseless," said Geneva editor of genetic engineering and genetic engineering editor Kiran Musunuru at the University of Pennsylvania.
"This is too early," says Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Translational Research Institute of California. "We deal with human operational guidelines, it's a big problem."
Famous genetics, George Harvard University's Church, defended genetic modification for HIV, which he described as "a major and growing threat to public health."
"I think this is justified," the Church said of this goal.
In recent years, researchers have found a relatively easy way to modify genes, DNA, which guide the body. The tool, called CRISPR-cas9, allows DNA to act to produce the necessary gene or to eliminate the problem that causes the problem.
Only recently it has been tried in adults to treat lethal diseases and the changes are limited to this person. The size of pigs, ovules or embryos is different, changes may be made. In the United States, it is not allowed except for laboratory tests. China denies human cloning, but not genetic modification.
He Jiankui (HEH JEE & # 39; -an-qway), who speaks "JK", studied at Rice and Stanford University in USA. Before returning to his home country to open a laboratory in the South China Science and Technology Center in Shenzhen where he also has two genetic engineering companies.
The US scientist who worked with him after this project when returning to China was Professor Michael Deem of physics and biotechnology, adviser to Rice Houston. Deem is also what he called "small participation" and is part of the scientific advice of two companies.
The Chinese scientist said he was working on modifying mice, monkeys and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents for his methods.
He said he decided to test the HIV embryo gene because these infections are a big problem in China. He tried to prevent the CCR5 gene, which forms a gateway to the proteins that allows HIV that causes AIDS to enter the cell.
All men in the project had HIV and all women were not able to do it, but manipulating the gene does not try to prevent the small transmission risk, he said. Parent infections were severely affected by severe anti-HIV medication and there are simple ways to prevent them from sticking on children who do not cause changes to the genes.
Instead, it is an invitation to provide HIV patients with the opportunity to have a child that could be protected from the same fate.
He hired couples from the Beijing AIDS advocacy group called Baihual. Its head, named "Bai Hua," told AP that it is not uncommon for people infected with HIV to lose their jobs or have problems obtaining medical care if their infections are revealed.
Thus the work was achieved:
Gene printing occurred during IVF or as a fertilizer for a laboratory plate. First, the sperm was "washed" to separate it from the semen, the fluid where HIV could lie. One sperm was placed in a single egg solution to create an embryo. A gene modification tool was then added.
When the embryos were 3-5 days old, some cells were removed and their modification was found. Couples can choose to use custom embryos for pregnant businesses. A total of 22 embryos were released, and six implantation tests used 11 embryos before a double pregnancy was achieved, he said.
Evidence suggests that both duplicates of a single duplicate of the desired gene changed and the other double sugar was changed only, and no other genes have any evidence. People with a copy of the gene may still have HIV, although some very limited studies suggest that their health may fall slower when they do.
Several scientists looked at the material submitted to PA and said that the tests so far are not enough to say that the edition worked or excluded the damage.
They also found evidence that the print was incomplete and at least one duplicate appeared to be a mosaic of the cells with several changes.
"It's almost like nothing's altered" if only a few of the cells changed because HIV infection can still occur, Church said.
The Church and Musunuru questioned the decision to allow one embryo to be used in pregnancy because Chinese researchers said they knew in advance that copies of both genes did not change.
"That child did not really have any benefit to protecting HIV, but he nevertheless reveals to the child all the unknown security risks," Musunuru said.
The use of that embryo suggests that the main focus of the researchers was "by investigating the cause to avoid this disease," Church said.
Even if the modification works perfectly, people who do not have normal CCR5 genes have a higher risk of getting other viruses such as the Western Nile and dying of influenza. According to Musunuru, there are many ways of preventing HIV infection and being well cared for if it occurs, other medical risks are a concern.
There are also questions about how he said he would continue. He announced his official work long after he said he started it on November 8 in Chinese clinical trials.
It is not clear that the participants would fully understand the purpose and potential risks and benefits. For example, consent forms were called the project "Development of AIDS vaccines".
Rice's scientist Deem said he was present in China when the potential participants gave their consent and "absolutely" believes they can understand the risks.
Deem said he worked with him in the Rice vaccine study and believes that the gene release is similar to the vaccine.
"It could be the way a layman describes it," he said.
Both men are physics experts who have no experience in clinical trials in humans.
Chinese scientist He said he personally made the goals clear and informed the participants that they had never tried to modify the embryo gene before and they pose risks. He added that he would also provide insurance coverage for each child born to the project and plans medical follow-up until the children are 18 years of age or older if they agree when they are adults.
Other pregnancy companies are expected until their safety is analyzed and experts in the field do, but the participants were not told in advance that they might not have the chance to prove what they once enrolled in the "first" pregnancy, he admitted. Free fertility treatment was part of the treatment they were offered to them.
He challenged and received approval from his project at the Hospital for Women and Children of the Shenzhen Harmonicare Association, which is not one of the four hospitals he said offered embryos for his research or pregnancy businesses.
Some of the hospitals' staff remained in the dark in the nature of the research work that he and Deem had made to prevent some participants from being exposed to HIV.
"We believe that this is ethical," said leader Linichit of the Ethics Panel, Harmonic.
All the members of the medical staff, who were able to handle samples containing HIV, were aware, he said. The embryologist from Hein Laboratory Qin Jinzhou confirmed to AP that he did sperm washing and stitched a gene tool for some pregnancy attempts.
Participants in the study are not ethics, he said, but "they have so much authority over what's wrong, because their lives are in line."
"I believe this will help families and their children," he said. If it causes undesirable side effects or damage, "I felt the same pain as they have and it is my responsibility".