Summary of A Chinese Researcher Edited the Genes of Babies – the Experiment Will Have Lasting Impact in the Medical Field

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A Chinese Researcher Edited the Genes of Babies – the Experiment Will Have Lasting Impact in the Medical Field summary
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In November 2018, Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced that he had altered the genes of baby twins to prevent them from contracting HIV. Prior researchers had only modified human genes of adults to treat deadly diseases. In those cases, changes were confined to that person – whereas the embryos carry modified genes that their children can inherit. He’s announcement triggered an immediate backlash from the global scientific community. The Chinese government ordered an immediate halt to He’s research. Investigators discovered that He forged ethical review papers and deliberately evaded supervision during his work. In January 2019, Chinese officials confirmed that a second woman became pregnant during the experiment. Despite the criticism, He’s controversial experiment will likely speed up the development and application of human gene editing. In this article from science and technology media platform Guokr, Guigu Canglong, a PhD gene-editing student, discusses the implications of this experiment in this good supplementary read for anyone following the news. Guigu doesn’t judge the ethics of the case, but asks “now what?” instead. 

In this summary, you will learn

  • What controversies surround Chinese researcher He Jiankui’s gene-editing experiments,
  • What attitudes the general public and the science community hold toward genetically editing embryos, and
  • What to expect in the aftermath of He’s gene-editing experiments.
 

About the Author

Guigu Canglong is a PhD student of neuroscience and gene-editing.

 

Summary

When Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed that he had modified the genes of embryos, the science community in China and all over the world reacted with shock and anger. Now that the dust is settling, it’s time to look at where gene-editing is headed. The reality is that governments, corporations and scientists alike want to build a new industry out of gene-editing for clinical use, but the technology isn’t mature enough yet. The safety and efficacy of the technique depend on two main metrics: the “chimeric rate” and the “off-target rate.” Whether scientists are editing genes in fertilized eggs or genes in individuals, the changes in the DNA don’t occur in all the cells, which means that a limited amount of cells inside the body are corrected. The chimeric rate measures the number of edited cells in relation to the number of cells in the body and serves as a determinant of the efficacy. If the number of cells successfully edited is too small, then the effectiveness of the treatment would be low. Currently, only a few cases of gene editing applications meet the clinical requirements. On the other hand, the “off-target rate” measures accuracy – how many genes were affected unintentionally in the process of editing the target gene. The off-targets may cause serious side effects such as cancer, but current tools are still unable to measure the off-target rate with accuracy, making it hard to evaluate the risk of clinical trials. 


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