Monday, December 3, 2018

CRISPR Twins Cause Controversy

Jiankui He
      On November 28, 2018, at the second International Summit of Genome Editing Jiankui He discloses information about the work behind creating the world’s first gene edited babies. He is a Chinese researcher who took part in the project of creating Lulu and Nana. These twin girls are like none other before because they are the first two babies whose DNA was edited to disable a gene involved in HIV infections. The process uses CRISPR/ Cas 9 to disable the CCR5 gene. However, to one of the audience’s biggest surprises, He revealed that another gene-edited baby is due sometime within the next year.
      In an attempt to alleviate the controversy, He explains how prior to applying the technology to human embryos, he and his team tested this editing technique on other species such as monkeys and mice to refine the process. It was argued that during the preliminary work no “off-target” edits, which are unwanted changes to other genes, were observed. In the case of Lulu and Nana, it was noted that after genetic editing, Lulu’s embryo had the edit which mimicked the naturally occurring mutation of the CCR5 gene that helps protect one from HIV. On the other hand, Nana’s embryo instead had a small deletion in the CCR5 gene. This change had supposedly caused no off-target edits, however, is change has no clear indication as to whether it would allow HIV into the cells.
       Upon reading this article as well as hearing the information presented in class, this event still leaves me hesitant. Many scientists have argued as to whether He was able to provide enough evidence of this work truly being successful. There lies the concern that not all of the cells in the embryos were edited, thus if this were the case even after editing one is at risk of HIV infection. In addition to increasing the risk of damaging other genes, I feel as if the way in which this scientist went about conducting the experiment fuels the controversy. After learning that this research and experiment was kept hidden from the University in which the scientist was employed seems sketchy and could possibly jeopardize the validity.

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