China claims first-ever CRISPR-edited babies

Chinese scientist He Jiankui has announced the arrival of twins whose genes have been edited with CRISPR technology to eradicate genetic diseases


According to a MIT Technology Review report, a scientist in China has claimed to have successfully created the first genetically-edited babies with CRISPR technology in an effort to prevent genetic diseases in babies.

CRISPR technology abbreviates from Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and refers to an internal defense system against bacteria which gives scientists the ability to alter an organism's DNA.

In an interview, He Jiankui, professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology, along with a research team announced the arrival of genetically modified twins in their study, Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of gene editing with human embryo CCR5 gene. Jiankui said that with the first arrival of gene-edited babies he hoped to set an example of gene-editing.

The study looked to remove a gene called CCR5 in an aim to render the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox and cholera. The process involves editing embryos with IVF to deploy the CRISPR technology to edit the CCR5 gene.

According to the team behind the study, the goal was to "obtain healthy children to avoid HIV providing new insights for the future elimination of major genetic diseases in early human embryos".

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However, MIT stated that the accomplishments come with praise as well as concern. On the new achievement, MIT reported: "The birth of the first genetically tailored humans would be a stunning medical achievement, for both He and China.

"But it will prove controversial, too. Where some see a new form of medicine that eliminates genetic disease, others see a slippery slope to enhancements, designer babies and a new form of eugenics."

A clinical trial document, posted via the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, stated that they are currently actively recruiting married couples in China to participate in the study, dating from March 7, 2017, continuing through to March 7, 2019. According to the document, the study is looking for couples that meet the set medical guidelines and are willing to undergo IVF therapy.

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