He Jiankui and Rice University professor Michael Deem were involved in creating the world’s first gene-edited baby

He Jiankui and Rice University professor Michael Deem were involved in creating the world’s first gene-edited baby

Rice University in the United States is under investigation after their bioengineering professor Michael Deem was reportedly involved in working with a Chinese researcher who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies and altered the DNA of several embryos to make them resistant to HIV.

According to He Jiankui, two twins were born with a model he used as known as CRISPR-cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) – its an adaptive immunity method which can insert or deactivate certain genes. In his YouTube video, He describes the procedure as having “removed the doorway through which HIV enters.”

Scientists have not verified his claims or peer-reviewed his work.  He Jiankui sparked an international outcry as gene editing of embryos intended for pregnancy is banned in many countries, including the United States. In the UK, editing of embryos is permitted only for research purposes but needs regulatory approval prior to commencement. Gene-editing is not just considered unethical but is also not safe and if used in pregnancy can have un-foreseen or unintended consequences for babies later in life or affect future generations.

He Jiankui has also announced that there is a separate woman who was pregnant at an early stage with a modified embryo.

China has invested heavily in gene-editing technology in, the first use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 in humans in 2016 and the first reported use of gene editing technology to modify nonviable human embryos in 2015.

More recently researchers in China claimed to have bred healthy mice from same-sex parents, using gene editing technology.
But in a statement posted Tuesday morning, China’s National Health Commission said that it had “immediately requested the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission to seriously investigate and verify” the claims made by He Jiankui.
Bioengineering professor Michael Deem was He Jiankui’s adviser at Rice for 3½ years and published three papers with him.
“This research raises troubling scientific, legal and ethical questions,” said Doug Miller, director of Rice University’s media relations team. In a statement, Miller said Rice had “no knowledge of this work.”
“We have begun a full investigation of Dr. Deem’s involvement in this research.”
Two babies, twin girls named Lulu and Nana, were supposedly born a “few weeks ago,” He announced in a video on YouTube, saying they were “as healthy as any other babies” and were home with their parents, Grace, and Mark.
He is scheduled to present his work Wednesday at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing conference in Hong Kong. The world has not reacted the way he wanted them to, Hundreds of Chinese biomedical and AIDS researchers issued statements condemning the research and many scientists said the experiment was “monstrous,” “premature, dangerous and irresponsible.”
Investigators are wondering whether the families were adequately informed of the nature of the experiment.
Deem told The Associated Press that he was in China with the families at the time they gave consent and “absolutely” believed they understood the risks.
As Rice University  investigating into Deem have stated that none of the clinical work appears to have been performed in the United States, but “regardless of where it was conducted, this work as described in press reports, violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University.”

Biomedical ethics researcher Kirstin Matthews at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and wrote in an email that she “was surprised yesterday, like many others, to find out that Professor Deem was involved in this research.” Adding that she had only recently begun working with Deem, she said she had not “seen anything to suggest that Professor Deem’s scientific work is in question,” nor did she believe any data in co-authored paper was affected.

“Had Professor Deem informed me of his work using CRISPR on human embryos to develop a baby, I would have recommended extreme caution using this technology on human embryos and to wait for more data on risks before using manipulated embryos for pregnancies,” Matthews wrote.