For the first time, a scientist claims to have used a powerful new gene-editing technique to create genetically modified human babies.
The scientist, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, says he used human embryos modified with the gene-editing technique CRISPR to create twin girls.
“Two beautiful little Chinese girls name Lulu and Nana came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago.” He says in a video posted online. “The babies are home now with their mom Grace and their dad Mark.”
He says his team performed “gene surgery” on embryos created from their parents’ sperm and eggs to protect the children from the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, which causes AIDS. The childrens’ father is HIV-positive.
“When Lulu and Nana were just a single cell, this surgery removed a doorway through which HIV enter to infect people,” He says in the video, one of several posted online to justify and explain the work.
Because the research has not yet been published in a scientific journal or carefully vetted by other scientists, many researchers and bioethicists remain cautious about the claim.
But, if true, many said the move would be historic, comparing it to the birth of Louise Brown, the first baby created through in-vitro fertilization, IVF.
“This event might be analogous to Louise Brown in 1978,” wrote George Church, a prominent Harvard geneticist, in an email. “Both anecdotal — yet healthy baby girls can have an impact,” Church wrote.
He and Church are among hundreds of scientists gathering at the Second International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong. The summit was organized try to reach a global consensus on whether and how it would be ethical to create genetically modified human beings with CRISPR.
The claims by He sparked immediate widespread criticism from attendees at the summit and elsewhere.
“This work is a break from the cautious and transparent approach of the global scientific community’s application of CRISPR-Cas9 for human germline editing,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview. Doudna helped discover CRISPR and organize the summit.
“All of us that are here at this conference are struggling to figure out what was done and also whether the process was done properly. We just don’t know yet,” Doudna says.
But the claim “really reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene-editing in human embryos to settings where there’s