CRISPR Babies: Our Worries are Confirmed

Last November 2018, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique was first used in a human experiment which led to the birth of twin girls in China. Since then alarming information continues to spill out regarding the genetically modified babies born from this technique, who are definitely real-life guinea pigs.

The international community voiced intense outrage following this serious violation, when the scientist, He Jiankui, announced that he had crossed the red line in order to test his hypothesis of “rendering the babies resistant to HIV». He deactivated the CCR5 gene, which codes for a specific receptor used by the HIV virus to penetrate lymphocytes and infect these immune system cells.

Shortly afterwards, his apparent intentions for tinkering with human DNA were the object of fierce criticism. His underlying intention for this genetic modification was to discover how it would affect the babies’ cognitive abilities, since it is supposed that the same CCR5 gene may be involved in learning faculties.

Due to the international reprobation, the document was kept relatively secret, with scientific journals refusing to publish the study because the scientist acted in violation of professional medical rules and ethics. Nonetheless, the experiment is currently being studied by the JAMA, and has been reported to many specialists, including George Church at Harvard Medical School. On the other hand, is it really the role of scientific journals to control ethical transgressions? The World Health Organization (WHO) has been solicited to address this crucial problem. Scientific experts were recruited by the WHO to form a panel, and the idea of a hotline to report any attempts to manufacture genetically modified babies has been developed.

A journalist from MIT Technology Review got hold of the original document and passed on to a few specialists. Their 12-point conclusion is staggering and raises a number of questions, such as whether the twin’s parents gave free and informed consent, or were they kept in the dark, pressured or manipulated? Why was certain data kept secret, such as the names of the in vitro fertilization specialists and obstetricians involved? Were they fully aware of what they were doing? Needless to say, the multiple scientific biases, as well as the regulatory violations of assisted procreation, etc are severely criticized.

He Jiankui’s report had already demonstrated that these genetically modified embryos were “mosaics”. This means that in addition to the mutation targeted by the experiment, other mutations have occurred elsewhere in the genome in a different manner from one embryonic cell to another, thus making the consequences unpredictable.

These children, born as a result of reproductive tinkering, are the hostages of the manner in which they are conceived, and they will pay a high price for it. It is urgent to stop these violations, which cannot even be qualified as experimenting on human beings, but rather as experimenting on making human beings!  

Allowing the manufacturing of transgenic embryos for research in the bioethics law would encourage this transgression in France. The French senators who will examine the bill in January 2020 still have an opportunity to change this.

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