A little known Chinese researcher, Jainkui He has created the world's first gene-edited twins. He claimed to have done this apparently to provide resistance to HIV-AIDS. The scientist used the power of the tool called CRISPR- Cas9 technology, to transform not only the genes, but also his own life.
The scientific community has condemned the works of He on the initiation of pregnancy through genetic modification of embryos, as 'dangerous', 'irresponsible' and 'crazy'. Human genome editing poses a serious threat to the mankind, where the unknown risks can be passed on to successive generations.
‘Genetic modification of human emryos can cause more harm to mankind than providing benefits.’
Mutations or forced sterilization
He edited the genome of human embryos for seven couples, out of which two embryos resulted in pregnancy and twin girls named Lulu and Nana were born. The main purpose of gene-editing is to provide resistance to the twins (whose father was HIV positive) from HIV, by modifying the CCR5 gene (the protein doorway for HIV to enter human cells). But, evidence suggests that this procedure could do more harm than reaping benefits.
Eventhough, the twins are born resistant to HIV, they have decreased resistance to viral diseases like influenza and West Nile. There is a possibility for unintended mutations caused by the CRISPR technology. As a result of mutations, these twins can become susceptible to infectious diseases and cancer in their lives. There is also a possibility that after reaching the reproductive age, these twins might have to undergo forced sterilization to prevent their edited genes being passed on to future generations.
The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, where He is employed will form an independent international committee to investigate the controversial issue.
Hank Greely, a professor of law and genetics at Stanford, says "If someone breaks those rules, scientists can ostracize, journals can refuse to publish, employers can refuse to employ, funders can refuse to fund." Greely believes that his experiment will have a ripple effect in the world of research, whether regulators act or not.
At times even bad beginnings can lead to better endings
In 1980, Professor Martin Cline was sanctioned for performing the first gene therapy in two women in Israel and Italy, since he didn't get approval to perform at UCLA. But, in current times, gene therapy is considered to be the novel treatment method.
Similarly, in 1978, Dr. Robert Edwards was condemned for creating the world's first 'test tube baby' Louise Brown, which had earned him Nobel Prize and had helped many couples who were unable to produce offspring.