Sci­en­tists: World still isn’t ready for gene-edited ba­bies

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

A group of lead­ing sci­en­tists has de­clared that it’s still too soon to try mak­ing per­ma­nent changes to DNA that can be in­her­ited by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, as a Chi­nese re­searcher claims to have done.

The sci­en­tists gath­ered in Hong Kong this week for an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on gene edit­ing, the abil­ity to re­write the code of life to try to cor­rect or pre­vent dis­eases.

Al­though the sci­ence holds prom­ise for help­ing peo­ple al­ready born and stud­ies test­ing that are un­der­way, a state­ment is­sued Thurs­day by the 14-mem­ber con­fer­ence lead­ers says it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble to try it on eggs, sperm or em­bryos ex­cept in lab re­search be­cause not enough is known yet about its risks or safety.

The con­fer­ence was rocked by the Chi­nese re­searcher’s claim to have helped make the world’s first geneedited ba­bies, twin girls he said were born ear­lier this month. Con­fer­ence lead­ers called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the claim by He Jiankui of Shen­zhen, who spoke to the group Wed­nes­day as in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism of his claim mounted.

There is no in­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion of what He says he did. He was sched­uled to speak again at the con­fer­ence on Thurs­day, but he left Hong Kong and through a spokesman sent a state­ment say­ing “I will re­main in China, my home coun­try, and co­op­er­ate fully with all in­quiries about my work. My raw data will be made avail­able for third party re­view.”

Sev­eral prom­i­nent sci­en­tists said the case showed a fail­ure of the field to po­lice it­self and the need for stricter prin­ci­ples or reg­u­la­tions.

“It’s not un­rea­son­able to ex­pect the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity” to fol­low guide­lines, said David Bal­ti­more, a No­bel lau­re­ate from Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy who led the panel.

There al­ready are some rules that should have pre­vented what He says he did, said Alta Charo, a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin lawyer and bioethi­cist and a con­fer­ence or­ga­nizer.

“I think the fail­ure was his, not the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity,” Charo said.

Gene edit­ing for re­pro­duc­tive pur­poses might be con­sid­ered in the fu­ture “but only when there is com­pelling med­i­cal need,” with clear un­der­stand­ing of risks and ben­e­fits, and cer­tain other con­di­tions, said Dr. Vic­tor Dzau, pres­i­dent of the U.S. Na­tional Academy of Medicine, one of the con­fer­ence spon­sors.

“Not fol­low­ing these guide­lines would be an ir­re­spon­si­ble act,” he added. – As­so­ci­ated Press

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