China defends creating world's first genetically edited babies

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The researcher in charge of the project, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, also published a series of videos explaining the gene-editing project.

Despite the ongoing backlash, the man at the center of the storm says he stands by his experiment, which he argues is only meant to help people. Editing human embryos can create unintended mutations in other areas - so-called "off-target effects" - which can have an impact through the lifetime, experts warned. All had fathers with well-controlled HIV and mothers who were not infected.

Even one of the inventors of CRISPR, Feng Zhang, told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology it was not worth the risk to start editing embryos' genes right now.

Such genetic tinkering contravenes global ethical guidelines and some countries' laws regulating the use of gene-editing in human reproduction - which some call the slippery slope towards designer babies. Such experiments would be illegal in many countries, including the United States.

There's been no outside confirmation of the experiment's results, but He said that they've been submitted to a scientific journal for review.

The ethics of the procedure are also complicated by the fact that targeting specific segments of DNA may not be fully precise or could carry side effects that are hard to predict.

He said he worked with seven couples and 31 embryos, more than 20 of which were edited.

He said "another potential pregnancy" of a gene-edited embryo was in its early stages. But on Wednesday, He doubled down and defended his work.

Meanwhile, more American scientists said they had contact with He and were aware of or suspected what he was doing.

'An Experiment on Human Beings': Outrage as Chinese Researcher Claims to Change Babies' DNA

He did not name those people. The genetic father is said to be HIV-positive. He talked about visiting villages in China where 30 percent of children are HIV positive.

"For this specific case, I feel proud. I feel proudest", He said, when challenged by several peers at the conference.

"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they chose to implant", he said.

He, who was trained as a bioengineer (completing his doctorate at Rice University in Houston and a post-doctoral fellowship in a prominent lab at Stanford University) seemed taken aback by the firestorm his work has created.

Hundreds of Chinese scientists also signed a letter on social media condemning the research, saying they were "resolutely" opposed to it.

China's National Health Commission issued a separate statement saying that it "attached great importance" to reports about the gene-editing experiment and immediately asked provincial health officials to "seriously investigate and verify" the reports.

The Ministry of Science and Technology in Beijing has vowed to get to the bottom the claims, and health authorities in Guangdong province and Shenzhen - where He claimed to have conducted the experiment - have joined forces for an investigation. "Nothing that I've been shown says it's false".

Harvard Medical School dean Dr. George Daley says it would be unfortunate if a misstep with a first case led scientists and regulators to reject the good that could come from altering DNA to treat or prevent diseases. "It's an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society". He stressed that Catholics do not need to automatically consider all gene editing to be problematic, but "need to be attentive to where the dangers are". "I can't know his motives, I just think it's curious that he knew about the paper".

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