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A Chinese scientist is now under fire from the scientific community (even from his own colleagues) for claiming to create CRISPR-edited infants

I don't know if this thread would classify under tech news since I saw a thread about lab grown meeat but if not, it's fine if the mods move it to off topic. 

 

Sources: CNET, The Verge, YouTube, MIT, Shenzhen Southern University of Science and Technology

 

Quote

Photo of Jiankui He

On Sunday, Jiankui He claimed to have successfully edited the genes of twin girls, releasing a recorded statement to YouTube about the breakthrough. He said the twin girls, "Lulu and Nana," were born healthy after their embryos were genetically modified to make them more resistant to HIV infection. The research was first detailed by MIT's Technology Review.

 

Media reports triggered Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology, where He is currently on unpaid leave, to release a statement Monday explaining that the organisation was "deeply shocked" and is trying to establish communications with He to clarify the extent of his research. The university condemned He's work, saying it "seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct" and the university was "unaware of the project and its nature." It's calling on "international experts to form an independent committee" to probe the matter.

 Quite the bold claim to say that he has successfully created infants that are resistant to HIV. It's no secret that HIV until now has no cure and many have died from opportunistic infections/malignancies because the virus attacks important immune system cells namely Helper T Cells/CD4+ (gives Cytotoxic T Cells/CD8+ a license to kill, primes other immune cells by secreting cytokines and by receiving antigen information from APCs) as well as macrophages and dendritic cells (phagocytic cells, acts as antigen presenting cells to Th cells, used by HIV as a Trojan horse). 

Until now, there is no effective vaccine to prevent HIV infections because as the virus has no error correcting mechanism so copying itself causes errors and those errors lead to mutations, and those mutations lead to high genetic variability in comparison to other viruses. While we do have our own defense mechanism against pathogens including viruses, the adaptive immune system is slow in doing this. It will take at least a week or two to mount an antibody response but during that time, the virus has already mutated and has killed off so many CD4+ which compromises the entire immune system. Someone infected with HIV can remain asymptomatic for years but time will come, his/her CD4+ count will plummet below 200/mm3 if left untreated, and/or opportunistic infections will manifest as well as some malignancies [here].

image.png.d583e6c6cbc878f1c43a833ffef81436.png

 

That is why doctors prescribe HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) which is a cocktail of different drugs that prevent the virus from infecting other immune cells until the viral load is in the undetectable levels and CD4+ bounces back up, thus delaying the onset of AIDS. However, HAART comes with side effects and if the patient often skips his/her meds, there's a chance that the virus will mutate to become resistant. That is why the best way to prevent HIV or any STD at the moment is either through abstinence or practice safe sex + proper sex ed.

 

Image result for hiv vs flu genetic variability

 

In the YouTube video above, Jiankui He claimed that he used CRISPR Cas9 to edit the embryo's genes right after IVF. To anyone who wants a condensed info about CRISPR, check out this video from Kurzgesagt.

Quote

Two Chinese girls, who we'll call Lulu and Nana to protect their privacy, were born healthy a few weeks ago. Their mother Grace started her pregnancy by regular IVF with one difference: right after sending her husband's sperm into her eggs, an embryologist also sent in CRISPR/Cas9 protein and instructions to perform a gene surgery intended to protect the girls from future HIV infection. The surgery reproduces a natural genetic variation shared by more than 100 million people of primarily European origin that confers strong resistance to initial HIV-1 infection and disease progression. While CRISPR/Cas9 has been studied in human cells and in early clinical trials, gene surgery in embryos intended for pregnancy has not previously been reported. Safety remains a key concern, particularly for unintended changes to the genome. To assess the girls' genomes for safety after the surgery, multiple whole genome and targeted deep sequencing techniques were used before implantation, during the pregnancy, and now after birth. These data indicate the girls' genomes' were changed as intended by the gene surgery, but no off-target editing or large deletions occurred. Further assessments to confirm these findings will be conducted over the next year. We will publish our full data soon.

I haven't done any CRISPR research or anything that has something about genetic engineering. The closest work I did about DNA is isolating DNA from animal livers as well as  PCR and AGE back in college. But with that said, I'd like to give my comments about the ones in bold. According to Nature, those Europeans who survived the Plague have inherited a resistance to HIV through a useful genetic mutation CCR5-Δ32 which is somehow is triggered by the Bubonic Plague which historically, killed 40% of Europeans from 1347 to 1350. More info here.

 

From what I understand about CRISPR, the enzyme Cas9 will accurately attach to the CCR5 gene of the germ cell/s and replace it with the CCR5-Δ32. Unlike traditional approaches to genetic engineering through restriction enzymes which is a hit or miss, Cas9 is accurate and it knows where to specifically cut. CRISPR is somehow touted by many scientists as the future of medicine. Imagine malignancies like inflammatory breast cancer get treated by CRISPR-edited NK/CD8+ cells which will specifically kill the cancer cells without harming normal ones. With HIV, CRISPR might be able to delete the virus' genome from existing CD4+ or protect an individual from being infected by modifying the receptors exploited by the virus so it cannot infect any immune cells or the embryos themselves have their genomes edited right after fertilization. The problem is that Jiankui He did not submit his work for peer review nor did he got a green light to do research in humans which prompted the university was shocked when they're informed about He's claims.

Quote

On November 26, 2018, the Southern University of Science and Technology (hereafter SUSTech or the University) was informed through media news reports that Dr. Jiankui HE (who has been on no-paid leave from February 2018 through January 2021) released a public announcement that he has carried out genetic editing on human embryos.

The University was deeply shocked by this event and has taken immediate action to reach Dr. Jiankui HE for clarification. Dr. Jiankui HE’s previous affiliation, the Department of Biology (hereafter the Department) called an emergency meeting of the Department Academic Committee.

 

Based on the information collected by the time of this release, SUSTech hereby wishes to make the following preliminary statement:

 

1. The research was conducted outside of the campus and was not reported to the University nor the Department. The University and the Department were unaware of the research project and its nature.
2. The SUSTech Department of Biology Academic Committee believes that Dr. Jiankui HE’s conduct in utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to edit human embryos has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct.
3. All research conducted at SUSTech is required to abide by laws and regulations, and comply with international academic ethics and codes of conduct.

The University will call for international experts to form an independent committee to investigate this incident, and to release the results to the public.

 

Southern University of Science and Technology

Based on those claims made by He, I think those claims are quite dubious if you ask me. In order to test if his experiment works, he has to infect those infants with HIV. How can we be sure that those work if we do not see any published PCR tests (Western Blot and ELISA aren't used in infants to test for HIV) and differential CD4+ count before, during and after infecting those infants. While we have been genetically modifying other organisms through the years which made insulin more accessible and made rice more nutritious, gene editing humans could either make us better or wipe us for good. Why? Because any mistake in genetic engineering could result to gene pollution and unwanted mutation. But it is possible that China and other countries are now paving the way of genetically enhanced humans, it's just that what we know about CRISPR is just at the tip of the iceberg. As reported by The Verge, this could pave the way to eugenics (remember ethnic cleansing by the likes of Hitler) and it's hard who to report to since there's no international governing body that regulates CRISPR research.

Quote

In the US, Congress prohibits federal dollars from funding research into genetically editing embryos, says Naomi Cahn, a professor at George Washington University Law School who specializes in reproductive technology. But gene-editing embryos itself is not prohibited — and even if it was banned here, it could lead to reproductive tourism and wealthy couples traveling abroad for their designer babies. “This shows the need for regulators to start rethinking approaches and how to develop more guidelines, both on a domestic and international level,” says Cahn.

 

And it’s not just governments that will be doing an ethical gut check. Scientific journals will need to carefully determine their own standards for publishing this type of research. “Journals will play a big role and should try to control future human experiments with embryos,” Caplan says.

Quote

The study has been met with skepticism across the world. Preeminent CRISPR researchers, such as Feng Zhang, are concerned about a lack of transparency at He's laboratory. As of writing, He's work has not been published or independently peer-reviewed and the claims remain unsubstantiated. 

 

But bigger ethical and moral questions are now being asked -- some consider his work irresponsible and potentially illegal, since it may not have got the required approvals. 

 

"Whether the results stand up to scrutiny or not, we need as a society to think hard and fast about when and where we are willing to take the risks that come with any new therapeutic treatment, particularly ones that could affect future generations," said Dr. Yalda Jamshidi, senior lecturer in human genetics at St. George's University of London. 

So there's no way to tell if this research is a fraud or not. If it's legit, it means that we might have unlocked the key to eradicate one of the deadliest infections of all time just like how we have eradicated smallpox and polio through vaccinations. It's just that embryo research raises a lot of ethical concerns even if Jiankui He is sincere. If it's a fraud, this could lead to mass hysteria and unfounded fear that anything that is GMO is bad for you which is erroneous and this could throttle the progression of scientific research. Remember that most of the people can't tell whether news is fake or legit but that's a discussion for another time. As someone studying to become a doctor, I always believe that the patient's safety should be prioritized above all. If a patient wants to be genetically engineered to treat his incurable ailment, full consent must be given with a waiver form signed by the patient, attending doctor/s, and a lawyer. This is not like giving epinephrine on someone with low HR, this is manipulating his/her genes that could either cure him/her or just hasten their demise.

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Like so many other technologies, I see tremendous benefits but also society-wide drawbacks if left unregulated. It's a breakthrough and a scientific achievement is he was successful, but his... way of doing things alongside the dubious claims and testing leaves me doubtful.

We shall see.

“I like being alone. I have control over my own shit. Therefore, in order to win me over, your presence has to feel better than my solitude. You're not competing with another person, you are competing with my comfort zones.” — Horacio Jones

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I too find this claim to be dubious at best. 

As a researcher, He should know that going against research protocol and against the basis of the scientific method would yield unreplicable results, rendering his entire exercise null and void (apart from the HIV resistant girls). 

Also, the fact that he made the announcement on YouTube is equally as dubious. If you did groundbreaking research, be it against protocol or not, you would probably take this to a scientific journal. 

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well this is deeply unsetteling and i hope its a hoax

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What many people don't understand is that it's not about the advancement in tech or the ability to do this that is special but the way it is done.

If we leave aside religious arguments like playing god isn't right there is a whole other problem here: the technique has been around a bit now and is not special. Also what the scientist did is not special as it required minimal skill. He just used tools that where there already.

The problem is that even though we have "decoded" the human genome so to say, we still don;t know enough about it. Therefore switching around genes can have unforeseen consequences.

And here comes the worst part: In this way they are using humans as test subjects. Because no one can actually be sure what these gene interactions may cause.

In this very case the twins born are different: one is indeed missing the CCR5 gene as planned but the other twin is heterozygous for the deletion. Therefore she is still susceptible to HIV infection but even more has increased risk for viral infections and increased risk for death from viral infections. It is just inhumane and ethically more than questionable to play around with chances like that (and we don't know what other issues the deletion may cause: maybe unforeseen neoplasia, premature death?) when a human being is not just affected  by, but basically forced to live with the outcome of the experiment.

 

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1 minute ago, ElfenSky said:

Like so many other technologies, I see tremendous benefits but also society-wide drawbacks if left unregulated. It's a breakthrough and a scientific achievement is he was successful, but his... way of doing things alongside the dubious claims and testing leaves me doubtful.

We shall see.

I don't want to start a political flame war but I can't comprehend as to why so many people are getting triggered when they hear the word "regulation" as if it's the end of the world and it's Pol Pot all over again. I don't want to

 

Nonetheless, he is set to appear in a summit in Hong Kong to defend his claims like a thesis defense. 

4 minutes ago, Volbet said:

I too find this claim to be dubious at best. 

As a researcher, He should know that going against research protocl and against the basis of the scientific method would yield unreplicable results, rendering his entire exercise null and void (apart from the HIV resistant girls). 

Also, the fact that he made the announcement on YouTube is equally as dubious.

This reminds me of the words of my college professors, if the said research work has to use animals or humans as subjects, it has to undergo to an ethics committee or else no reputable publication would accept it no matter how promising the results are.

1 minute ago, VegetableStu said:

also like isn't youtube banned in china ._.

Some VPNs can get around the Great Firewall. It's possible that he uploaded the video in Hong Kong where Google services are allowed. Besides, Shenzhen is just right above Hong Kong.

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I see the soul that is inside

 

 

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7 minutes ago, Nicnac said:

What many people don't understand is that it's not about the advancement is tech or the ability to do this that's special but the way it is done.

Can you imagine black market doctor prescribing CRISPR to a couple with sickle cell anemia so that their baby won't have it but it lead to spina bifida instead? As promising as it is, authorities have to regulate it imo.

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I see the soul that is inside

 

 

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6 minutes ago, captain_to_fire said:

Can you imagine black market doctor prescribing CRISPR to a couple with sickle cell anemia so that their baby won't have it but it lead to spina bifida instead? As promising as it is, authorities have to regulate it imo.

obviously! I'm just saying I get that people like the technological idea behind it as many don't know the procedure is possible already. 

But this just makes me furious as it's an idiot who didn't value the tools he was given and only wants to reach fame by any means.

 

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Just now, VegetableStu said:

DO YOU WANT GUNDAM SEED? BECAUSE THAT'S HOW YOU GET GUNDAM SEED

I was thinking real life Captain Americas if CRISPR got perfected to create the perfect human void of any illness, heals fast, does not fatigue and twice as strong. Then some authoritarian leader picks it up and demands CRISPR treatment to all or else die aka eugenics. Can you imagine a vile, racist, and authoritarian white supremacist rising in power to demand CRISPR treatment to whiten everyone's skin or else get killed. That would even be darker than the Holocaust.

7 minutes ago, VegetableStu said:

oh joy, we have our first feature-bug:

Good thing here in Asia, West Nile is not that common compared to Malaria and Dengue. 

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29 minutes ago, captain_to_fire said:
37 minutes ago, Volbet said:

 

This reminds me of the words of my college professors, if the said research work has to use animals or humans as subjects, it has to undergo to an ethics committee or else no reputable publication would accept it no matter how promising the results are

While I'm no expert, the ethical standards usually only apply to research papers. His research could still be published via a letter to the editor. It's not uncommon to see half-done research published via that channel.

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4 minutes ago, captain_to_fire said:

Can you imagine a vile, racist, and authoritarian white supremacist rising in power to demand CRISPR treatment to whiten everyone's skin or else get killed. That would even be darker than the Holocaust.

China is on a very good path to that kind of superpower. They've seen what European powers have done in the past and they are simply waiting for their turn. But they won't make the same mistakes.

Remember that lamb they were able to breed in a plastic bag?

Why not make some soldiers aka Episode II ^^

 

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1 minute ago, Volbet said:

While I'm no expert, the ethical standards usually only apply to research papers. His research could still be published via a letter to the editor. It's no uncommon to see half-done research published via that channel.

there's ethics in science

 

....

 

and there's ethics when you're fucking around wth human beings. Should be common sense really.

Again, I am not opposing the technology as such but the way they want to "accelerate" their experiments.

 

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5 minutes ago, Volbet said:

While I'm no expert, the ethical standards usually only apply to research papers. His research could still be published via a letter to the editor. It's no uncommon to see half-done research published via that channel.

If he's planning to get his paper to the likes of JAMA, Elsevier, and the like, an ethic committee review is a must requirement. On the other hand, Jiankui He can always upload his paper to Academia.edu or Research Gate. 

There is more that meets the eye
I see the soul that is inside

 

 

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Can't wait to have a Goro baby!  Come on China, don't disappoint. 

"And I'll be damned if I let myself trip from a lesser man's ledge"

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I’m personally skeptical about the “work”, but if they actually did it, then that’s pretty unacceptable. Modification of someone’s genome is something that could, hell probably will change their life forever, and we don’t know whether that’s for better or worse. Regsrdless, testing on a human is unacceptable, there’s no good reason to test on a person without their own consent and previous research put into it from previous testing.

Who needs fancy graphics and high resolutions when you can get a 60 FPS frame rate on iGPUs?

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53 minutes ago, captain_to_fire said:

I don't want to start a political flame war but I can't comprehend as to why so many people are getting triggered when they hear the word "regulation" as if it's the end of the world and it's Pol Pot all over again. I don't want to

Because historically more regulations results in less freedom, even when they are made with the best of intentions, would be my assumption. People in general don't like the government interfering with their (personal) lives/decisions. Mind you, in this case I'm for stricter testing and regulations of this tech. Like you said, the black market implications of it are horrible.

“I like being alone. I have control over my own shit. Therefore, in order to win me over, your presence has to feel better than my solitude. You're not competing with another person, you are competing with my comfort zones.” — Horacio Jones

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Designer babies when?! P2W your child to have:

 

- more muscle mass!

- grow taller!

- disease resistance!

- the perfect metabolism rate (never get fat again)!

- RGB hair and eye colors (now with aura sync)!

- Specially binned grey matter, for better cerebral overclocking potential!

 

Coming soon to a cash shop clinic near you! 

 

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Or simply purchase a CRISPR loot-box for only $999.99!!

 

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"progress"

 

maybe next he can genetically modify babies to resist smog in China's cities or to not speak against the communist party

.

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3 hours ago, captain_to_fire said:

Quite the bold claim to say that he has successfully created infants that are resistant to HIV. It's no secret that HIV until now has no cure and many have died from opportunistic infections/malignancies because the virus attacks important immune system cells namely Helper T Cells/CD4+ (gives Cytotoxic T Cells/CD8+ a license to kill, primes other immune cells by secreting cytokines and by receiving antigen information from APCs) as well as macrophages and dendritic cells (phagocytic cells, acts as antigen presenting cells to Th cells, used by HIV as a Trojan horse).

tfw you understand part of the explanation cause you watched Hataraku Saibou during the summer season

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speaking on which, whatever happened to that weird head transplant operation thingy that was supposed to happen somewhere earlier this year? is anything is happening beyond hype shit?

Details separate people.

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6 hours ago, suicidalfranco said:

tfw you understand part of the explanation cause you watched Hataraku Saibou during the summer season

I cringe sometimes when watching that on the things they got wrong. :P

Nonetheless it's a cute show xD

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I see the soul that is inside

 

 

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7 hours ago, captain_to_fire said:

That would even be darker than the Holocaust.

Wouldn't it technically be "whiter"...

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Here's hoping this sort of things become mainstream(and properly regulated), to help get rid of diseases.
Hopefully, governments don't just listen to the few who have a "problem" with gene editing and straight up ban this, like they did with cloning.

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Interesting takes here but i think the deeper and more real inevitability(+funnier) thought  would be JF's idea of the Revolutionary Phenotype were from continued influence and pressures (social or other) will lead to a take over of the human species' reproduction to the benefit of the next-gen gene designer's will.

 

I'll leave his take on this subject here for anyone that would want to know who/what I'm talking about: 

Short term I'm sure many will definitely be sympathetic for this family but these things of course have a greater impact an the whole of life on Earth.

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