2018-11-26
Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen / iStockphoto.com
26 November 2018Asia-Pacific

Scientists want CRISPR regulation amid reports of foetus gene-editing

Scientists have urged policymakers to implement a regulatory framework governing the use of CRISPR technology in humans, following reports that a Chinese scientist has successfully created ‘edited’ twins.

Yesterday, the MIT Technology Review reported that Chinese medical documents ( here and here) have revealed that a team of researchers has been recruiting couples with the intention of creating the first ever gene-edited babies.

The team, led by He Jiankui and based at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 with the hope of making the baby resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

Data submitted as part of trial showed that genetic tests were carried out on foetuses at 24 weeks (6 months). Whether all of the pregnancies continued is not known.

Following MIT’s publication of the story, the Associated Press reported that, according to He, one couple in the trial gave birth to twin girls earlier this month.

He has also released a video about the project.

However, the Southern University of Science and Technology today released a statement to say that it is “deeply shocked” by the reports.

The university claimed that He’s research was conducted off campus without the knowledge of the university. It added that the reported experiment “has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct”.

Science Media Centre, a UK-based non-profit seeking to facilitate scientists’ engagement with the media, today reported on researchers’ reaction to the news, with a number criticising He’s work and urging policymakers to implement regulations around the use of CRISPR.

Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, UK, said: “Scientists cannot be seen to be trying to forge ahead in the absence of ethical constraint. An international treaty on embryo research is now an absolute priority to prevent this happening again.”

Channa Jayasena, clinical senior lecturer in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, agreed that an international treaty is necessary to allow researchers to determine if and when the genetic modification of humans is safe.

Meanwhile, Julian Hitchcock, partner at Marriot Harrison, noted that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ report on “Human Genome Editing and Human Reproduction”, published in July, set out 15 principles whereby CRISPR editing of embryos might be permitted.

“The news from China highlights the urgency of following up the 15 Nuffield recommendations,” he said.

Joyce Harper, professor in genetics and human embryology, institute for women’s health at University College London, was part of the Nuffield group working on the principles.

She said that 20 months was spent examining all aspects of genome-editing, and the conclusion was that public debate and legislation is needed in this area.
In reaction to the reports of He’s work, Harper said “countries such as China really concern me”.

Finally, Kathy Niakan, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said that if the reports are true then He’s work is “a highly irresponsible, unethical and dangerous use of genome-editing technology”.

She explained that much more research needs to be conducted before advanced techniques, such as CRISPR, are applied in a clinical setting.

Many of the researchers quoted by the Science Media Centre noted that He’s claim has not yet been evidenced, as the research has not been published or peer-reviewed.

As previously reported by LSIPR, a report identified China as one of the first locations to allow the editing of human embryos using CRISPR technology. By February 2018, the country had registered nine clinical trials based on CRISPR-edited cells in the context of diseases like cancer and HIV.

In comparison, the US had registered only one trial, with the Food and Drug Administration only lifting its hold on the first US-based human CRISPR trial last month.

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More on this story

Africa
21 March 2019   World Health Organization (WHO) experts have called for central registry on human genome editing research is needed, among a committee consensus that it would be irresponsible for any scientist to conduct gene-editing studies in people.
Biotechnology
12 June 2019   A Russian scientist is planning to create CRISPR-edited babies, despite the widespread condemnation levelled at the first scientist who created ‘edited’ twins.
Genetics
3 September 2019   The World Health Organization has launched a global registry to track research on human genome editing.

More on this story

Africa
21 March 2019   World Health Organization (WHO) experts have called for central registry on human genome editing research is needed, among a committee consensus that it would be irresponsible for any scientist to conduct gene-editing studies in people.
Biotechnology
12 June 2019   A Russian scientist is planning to create CRISPR-edited babies, despite the widespread condemnation levelled at the first scientist who created ‘edited’ twins.
Genetics
3 September 2019   The World Health Organization has launched a global registry to track research on human genome editing.

More on this story

Africa
21 March 2019   World Health Organization (WHO) experts have called for central registry on human genome editing research is needed, among a committee consensus that it would be irresponsible for any scientist to conduct gene-editing studies in people.
Biotechnology
12 June 2019   A Russian scientist is planning to create CRISPR-edited babies, despite the widespread condemnation levelled at the first scientist who created ‘edited’ twins.
Genetics
3 September 2019   The World Health Organization has launched a global registry to track research on human genome editing.