According to a Stanford-educated Chinese researcher, the first ever genetically edited babies — twin girls whom he altered to be more resistant to HIV infection — were born this month, an action that is being condemned as “unethical” by some of his fellow scientists.
In an AP, report published Monday, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, China, who studied at Rice and Stanford before returning to China to open up his own lab, claims that he helped “design” the world’s first genetically altered babies, who were born this month.
The Chinese researcher said he practiced editing mice, monkey, and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents on his methods.
He said he chose embryo gene editing for HIV because these infections are a big problem in China. He sought to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter a cell.
“He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus,” AP reports.
Others, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a gene editing expert, have strongly decried He’s actions as “unsconscionable” and neither “morally or ethically defensible.”
“We still have a lot of work to do to prove and establish that the procedure is safe,” Musunuru told AP. “I would say that no babies should be born at this point in time following the use of this technology. It’s simply too early, too premature.”
Dr. Eric Topol, executive VP of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, echoed Musunuru, criticizing He’s experiment as “far too premature.”