A Chinese scientist has rocked the world of genetics with claims Monday that he used gene-editing technology to alter the DNA of embryos that have now produced twin girls. Two twins are being called the first "genetically edited" humans.
Yet Chinese scientists were appalled by He's work.
In an open letter, more than 300 Chinese scientists raised 10 questions for He and his team related to safety, effectiveness and goal of the research, and whether he has concealed other related experiments from the public, China Daily reported.
Regulators have been swift to condemn the experiment as unethical and unscientific. More importantly, prospective parents anxious about more than one genetic marker, and who therefore might not have any "unaffected" embryos, could use gene editing to make changes at multiple places in their embryos' genomes.
"We care deeply about the two babies and appeal for the research and formulation of detailed medical and ethical care plans", it said.
"What we can say for sure is that the gene editing process did not take place at our hospital".More news: Steven Gerrard close to signing Rangers extension
Li Jinsong, a researcher from the Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has said the research is "unbelievable, totally unacceptable". He set up a laboratory at the university in Shenzhen, part of China's drive to become a global leader in biomedical research.
Hundreds of scientists, both in China and around the world, swiftly condemned his claims.
The research was conducted outside of the campus and was not reported to the university or the institution's biology department.
There is no independent confirmation of He's claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut and paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease.
Even if editing worked perfectly, people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from the flu. Ethics also play a big role in the debate as gene editing essentially allows humans to "play God" and create children with desirable traits which some label as "designer babies." .More news: Trump Rips Impeachment, Says FBI 'Spied' on Campaign
One concern is that CRISPR can introduce accidental so-called "off-target" mutations.
Chinese law now stipulates that biomedical research on human diseases must first be reviewed by ethics authorities, according to 2016 guidelines from the country's National Population and Family Planning Commission. Mitalipov was the first scientist to report using CRISPR to successfully edit human embryos, but stopped far short of trying to use them to make babies. The hospital, Shenzhen Harmonicare Women's and Children's Hospital, said it has lodged a report with the police.
The genetically-modified twin sisters were not born at the hospital, health officials said. Just because the first case may have been a misstep "should in no way, I think, lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider the very, very positive aspects that could come forth by a more responsible pathway", Daley said.
Both men are physics experts with no experience running human clinical trials. "Progress over the last three years and the discussions at the current summit, however, suggest that it is time to define a rigorous, responsible translational pathway toward such trials", the statement said.
However, Xu Nanping, China's vice-minister for science and technology, said on state-run CCTV on Thursday that the work blatantly violated "China's relevant laws and regulations" and called for activities related to He's work to be suspended.
China had earlier withdrawn from the summit, according to the organisers, prompting speculation that it did not wish to be in the spotlight over ethical issues and general research transparency. The Chinese Academy of Engineering, a top academic body of the country, has urged strict protection of the twins' privacy, calling for the development of a detailed care plan for the babies as they grow "to guard against possible health damage resulting from the gene editing". Using the new tool on sperm, eggs, or embryos means descendants will also inherit the changes.More news: Boeing 737 Max certification to extend into 2020, FAA chief says