Dec 4, 2019

Report: Huge oversights in Chinese scientist's gene-edited babies attempt

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Visuals

MIT Technology Review released excerpts of Chinese scientist He Jiankui's unpublished research on Tuesday, underscoring massive ethical and practical oversights in his claim that he successfully used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to create genetically engineered children.

The bottom line: A primary goal of the experiment was to test if cells could be gene-edited to become HIV resistant. This could have been done without creating human test subjects, MIT notes.

What else they found: The researchers never checked to see if their newly created mutations actually led to HIV resistance — and the experiment itself did not have "clear, immediate medical benefits" for the children or their parents, per MIT.

  • The twin girls could have health issues from different cells in their embryos potentially being edited differently, or from being "mosaic."
  • The research plan was not registered with the China Clinical Trial Registry until after the twins were born — and it only briefly discusses ethics at all.
  • Author and lead researcher He Jiankui thanked John Zhang, head of one of the largest fertility centers in the U.S., for his contributions to the report.

What they didn't find: He's unpublished research, reviewed by MIT, did not disclose the financial interests of the authors or who funded the project. The manuscripts also did not include details on each author’s scientific contribution.

Go deeper: Report: Location of Chinese scientist who says he created first gene-edited babies unknown

Go deeper

Report: Location of Chinese scientist who says he created first gene-edited babies unknown

He Jiankui at the 2018 International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

The whereabouts of scientist He Jiankui, who claimed to successfully use the gene-editing tool CRISPR to create genetically engineered children, are unknown, as he has not been seen publicly since January, AP reports.

Where it stands: A Chinese government investigation found in January that He "seriously violated" state regulations, per the New York Times.

Go deeperArrowNov 30, 2019

HIV-positive babies could benefit from treatment days after birth

Antiretroviral drugs, administered within days of birth, appeared to bring HIV in newborns down to undetectable levels.

Why it matters: About 500 babies in sub-Saharan Africa are born with HIV every day, NPR reports. Though these early-treated children are not cured yet, researchers' recent study published in Science Translational Medicine shows encouraging results from a clinical trial in Botswana.

Go deeperArrowDec 5, 2019

CRISPR-based gene editing treatments benefit patients with blood disorders

A researcher observes a CRISPR/Cas9 process through a stereomicroscope. Photo: Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images

The first two patients to receive CRISPR-based treatments for their blood disorders benefited from the therapy, the two companies developing the treatment announced yesterday — a sign that gene editing may be a safe and effective way to cure blood diseases, STAT reports.

Why it matters: The two blood disorders, sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, can have a drastic impact on patients' lives. A cure would be transformative.

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019