Outrage is widespread in the scientific community, as one man’s choices may have ruined genome editing for everyone. With others calling his actions “premature,” “ethically problematic,” and “monstrous” Doctor He Jiankui remains confident in his actions. His action being creating the first genetically modified babies, twin girls born in November. “He had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mother’s womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V..”
The chaos created by Dr. He’s actions are due to the fact that he failed to receive permission from an ethical board. He claims to have gotten the permission of the hospital, Shenzhen Harmonicare, but the hospital denies being involved. The hospital is even going as far as requesting a police investigation into the “fraudulent ethical review materials.” So without ethical approval, Dr. He seriously violated not only the Chinese government’s laws and regulations created by the Chinese Society for Cell Biology but also academic ethics and norms. He has risked opening the door to designer babies editing everything from eye color to I.Q and physical ability, while the CRISPR creators are attempting to limit the editing to cases of desperate unmet need where the cause cannot be prevented in any other way, unlike H.I.V. which is very easily avoidable in infants.
These twins, however, are the only known set of children to be produced from a trial of seven couples with an H.I.V. positive father and negative mother. Dr. He after deactivating the perfectly normal gene CCR₅ with CRISPR-Cas9 implanted the embryos into their mothers. In deactivating the CCR₅, Dr. He made the girl’s resistant to H.I.V., but also made them more susceptible to West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis. So while the babies were “born normally and healthy” according to Dr. He, Dr.Kiran Musunuru from the University of Pennsylvania said there was evidence of mosaicism in both twins embryos and Lulu’s placenta was also mosaic. Despite the mosaic placenta, both babies appear to be progressing well for now, but what will happen to them in the future is the unknown. While their health is positive for now, the effects will be felt in their progeny for generations to come in unknown ways as cells with CCR₅ and without are mixed.
With the unknown effects on future children, a lack of shared experimental notes/reports and ethical precautions, and a plea via youtube Dr. He only 34 years old is being shunned in the science community just days before his presentation at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong.