Chinese researcher claims second pregnancy with gene-edited baby is underway

A technician works in a lab at GeseDNA Technology in Beijing

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, revealed the possible pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an worldwide conference in Hong Kong.

He's claims have not been confirmed by other scientists. Natural mutations to the gene, known as CCR5, affect up to 10% of the populations in northern European countries and can also confer immunity to HIV, the scientist said.

"I must apologize, this result was leaked unexpectedly", He Jiankui told a Hong Kong medical conference on Wednesday, as cited by AFP.

Gene editing is banned in Britain, the U.S. many other parts of the world, largely because its long-term effects on mental and physical health are poorly understood. In the years since that moratorium began, scientists have generally been warming to the idea that it might be worth editing embryos in order to delete a serious disease gene, say.

The Chair of the Summit, Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, spoke from the floor after the panel session.

The Chinese government has ordered an "immediate investigation" into the alleged delivery of the world's first genetically edited babies, as experts worldwide have voiced outrage at such use of the technology.

Edited embryos grew in a lab dish for three to five days, at which point He and team assessed the editing by analyzing each embryo's entire genome to ensure the procedure worked as intended. Any children born as a result of genome editing will also need long-term follow up. "I would say no babies should be born at this time, following the use of this technology".

He recruited HIV-positive heterosexual couples who wanted to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization, or IVF, to participate in the work through an AIDS advocacy group.

He said the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where the work was done. "In fact there is not only very little chance these babies would be in need of a benefit, given their low risk, but there is no way to evaluate if this indeed conferred any benefit".

"The technology is not mature enough", Carol said. That may be true, to a point, but it's abundantly clear that many organizations within China maintain similar ethical standards to their counterparts overseas.

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But Daley argued that a consensus was a emerging that "if we can solve the scientific challenges, it may be a moral imperative that it should be permitted".

"The lack of transparency and disregard for risk are deeply concerning", Doudna said. Even if the process goes smoothly, people with deficiencies in CCR5 are more susceptible to conditions like West Nile Virus and Japanese encephalitis.

A prominent American scientist is warning against a backlash to the claim that a Chinese scientist has helped make the world's first gene-edited babies.

"There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: For example, protected sex. We are equally shocked as everybody else", an official in charge of medical ethics evaluation was quoted as saying. "We are completely in the dark".

And, the statement said, the university was blindsided by He's announcement.

A spokesman for He said he has been on leave from teaching since early this year but remains on the faculty and has a lab at the university.

In a statement posted Tuesday morning, China's National Health Commission said that it had "immediately requested the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission to seriously investigate and verify" He's claims.

"So, when we make changes in the genes, we don't know what else downstream is being changed".

Editing eggs, sperm or embryos is different, because it makes permanent changes that can pass to future generations. One reason is that a mistake could introduce a new disease that could be passed down for generations. The AP says consent forms described it as an "AIDS vaccine development" program.

But no one had ever attempt to implant edited embryos into a woman's womb to allow them to develop into babies, and other scientists still maintain that it is far too early to be attempting that.

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