First germline-edited baby: bad ethics, bad science


  • Mary Corcoran
  • Univadis Medical News
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Experts have strongly criticised the first reported instance of germline gene editing in humans and say it is unlikely to provide intended protection. 

Last year, Jiankui He presented a gene editing project, which he claimed led to the birth of two infants with man-made C-C chemokine receptor type 5 (CCR5) mutations. 

However, in a commentary in PLOS Biology, Haoyi Wang of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Hui Yang of the Institutes of Neuroscience, CAS, say the research revealed “a troubling lack not only of basic medical ethics but also of the requisite understanding of genetics and gene editing”. 

The authors claim the project was misconceived on a number of levels, highlighting gene editing in embryos “is completely unnecessary” to prevent HIV transmission to the foetus. They also say, while a naturally occurring CCR5 mutation is associated with some resistance to infection in European populations, the mutation does not block all HIV strains, and its potential health effects in Chinese populations have not been studied. 

With a lack of study data available, the authors have recommended that authorities investigate the case and release data to the wider scientific community, and that "clear and strict laws" be introduced to regulate future human germline editing experiments.