Claim of First Gene-Edited Babies Triggers Investigation


He JiankuiChinese researcher He Jiankui announced on November 26 that he had used CRISPR technology to edit the genomes of embryos who have now been born as twin baby girls.

Genetic editing is banned in the US for ethical reasons, including the risks it poses to DNA that can be passed on to future generations.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, revealed the pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an global conference in Hong Kong. Jiankui told the AP that 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". "Society will decide what to do next", he said.

Gene editing expert Kiran Musunuru of the University of Pennsylvania called it an "unconscionable" experiment and "not morally or ethically defensible".

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Implanting a genetically modified embryo into a woman is illegal in New Zealand under the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2004. "And there are effective treatments if one does contract it", Savulescu said.

That type of gene editing is banned in the USA except in lab research. An American scientist, Michael Deem of Rice University, also worked on the project. "It's just nearly surreal", said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who said he has seen some of the data behind the experiment. "It is also important that public and transparent discussion of the many uses of genome editing technology continue, as is happening over the next three days at the Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong".

"This is a truly unacceptable development", said Jennifer Doudna, a University of California-Berkeley scientist and one of the inventors of the CRISPR gene-editing tool that He said he used.

In addition, Zhang said that in 2015, "the worldwide research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.' (This was the consensus statement from the 2015 worldwide Summit on Human Gene Editing.) It is my hope that this year's summit will serve as a forum for deeper conversations about the implications of this news and provide guidance on how we as a global society can best benefit from gene editing". The tool has been used recently to treat deadly diseases in adults, but not in editing sperm, eggs, or embryos. The technology also carries the risk of affecting other genes unintentionally.

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Scientists discovered in recent years a new way to edit genes that make up a person's DNA throughout the body. Although China prohibits human cloning, it does not specifically outlaw gene editing. However, this rational debate can only take place if all scientists play their part and ensure that all experiments are done in the public interest. That may be true, to a point, but it's abundantly clear that many organizations within China maintain similar ethical standards to their counterparts overseas. But Snelling said that was too great a risk to the babies when there were other, safer ways to prevent HIV transmission to a fetus. "Directly experimenting on human is nothing but insane ... as soon as a living human is produced, no one could predict what kind of impact it will bring, as the modified inheritable substance will inevitably blend into human genome pool", they wrote, adding that the trial is a "huge blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.

"Of the group infected with HIV, many have special conditions such as inability to conceive naturally, but the reality is that they can not have babies through IVF in hospitals", he said.

Before He's talk, Dr. George Daley, Harvard Medical School's dean and one of the conference organizers, warned against a backlash to gene editing because of He's experiment. It can lead to unintended consequences, such as affecting others genes ("off-target" effects) or making multiple modifications of the gene we are aiming to modify ("on-target" effects). "I was there for the informed consent of the parents".

Doudna and other researchers noted that genetically editing for HIV didn't solve an unmet need.

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"I believe this is going to help the families and their children", He said.