SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A Chinese researcher has claimed that he genetically modified human beings for the first time. He says that twin girls born earlier this month have been genetically modified to be resistant to HIV infection. Scientists internationally are incensed, saying that this researcher’s actions are unethical.
Human genetics professor David Grunwald at the University of Utah said, “There is no surprise in the scientific community that we have the technology to accomplish these changes, I think we were very surprised that someone would consider implementing them.”
The Chinese researcher He Jiankui at the Southern Univ. Of Science and Technology in Shenzhen says he used CRISPR technology to genetically modify the twins. CRISPR is essentially bacteria that can cut a specific gene out of a long strand of DNA, and will then replace the cut section with a foreign segment, or allow the strand to heal naturally.
At the University of Utah, researchers are using CRISPR to study osteoarthritis. Grunwald explained, “We’ve discovered a gene that we think allows people to become very susceptible to osteoarthritis. We want to ask, is this gene different enough to account for their susceptibility to the disease? and so we have engineered mice that have exactly the same change in their genome as these people who come down with this disease.”
Grunwald said that genetically modified human beings should not have been considered at this early research stage. “There’s really a unanimous response among scientists and nations that there’s no way an individual should be able or should be allowed to design an experiment on human beings. What we learned form the Holocaust, from the Nuremberg trials, is that we have to be very careful about employing experiments on human beings, we have to be very careful to use oversight, we have to be careful that we can provide informed consent to individuals on how they will be effected when they are experiments. None of these guidelines were being followed in this particular case.”
Grunwald said that this technology will become more and more accessible to rogue scientists and that it’s time for communities to become involved in creating regulatory policy.