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Plan to Edit Baby Genes May Have 'Created New Mutations'

MIT Technology Review is far from impressed
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2019 3:00 PM CST
He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(Newser) – Looks like a highly controversial attempt to create HIV-immune babies didn't work out and may have even gone wrong, the Guardian reports. This according to an MIT Technology Review report on the work of Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who sparked outcry with his plan to edit the embryonic genes of twins in 2018. Releasing parts of his manuscript for the first time, the report dismisses Jiankui's claim of "success" and says he may have created unintended genetic mutations. Jiankui "makes little attempt to prove that the twins really are resistant to the virus," writes Antonio Regalado, the Review's senior editor for biomedicine. "And the text largely ignores data elsewhere in the paper suggesting that the editing went wrong."

Using the gene editing tool Crispr, Jiankui singled out the gene CCR5—a mutation of which can create HIV immunity—but it's unclear whether he replicated the "Delta 32" variation needed for immunity or perhaps created unintended changes. The report also criticizes Jiankui for leaving out the names of doctors involved, possibly tricking them into doing the work, not saying who funded it, and falsely claiming that embryo editing will help millions of people. Another concern: The twins' HIV-positive father might have joined the research simply to get a fertility treatment in a country where the virus still carries a major social stigma, per the Telegraph. All told, not a ringing endorsement. (Now He may be in big trouble.)

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