(Photo : Josh Reddekopp, Unsplash)
Genetic modification should free or at least delay hereditary diseases.

The genetically-edited babies from China may instead suffer from unintended mutations, scientists said in a new article.

Last year, Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui sparked an uproar among his fellow medical practitioners after he revealed that he had successfully created a twin immune to HIV through genetic modification. He also claimed that he has made a revolutionary medical breakthrough that could end the HIV epidemic.

However, it was not well-received by his peers. They noted that He ignored the ethical practices and scientific norms. Fellow Chinese scientists also called him an insult to the biochemical research in their country.

But what scares the scientists the most was the possible complications this impulsiveness would bring to the twins, Lulu and Nana.

An Imperfect Technology

He Jiankui
(Photo : Screenshot from He Jiankui's video in Youtube)
He Jiankui shocked the world when he announced that he successfully modified two human babies to be immune to HIV infection.

The manuscript published by the MIT Technology Review questioned the validity of the study, especially whether or not the team have actually met their goal.

Some people are naturally immune to HIV because of a mutation in their gene called CCR5. He tried to replicate that by editing the embryo's gene using the powerful editing tool called CRISPR. 

It is noted that CRISPR is still considered an "imperfect tool" because it could target an unwanted gene instead, which is why scientists refused to use it on humans yet.

Moreover, although He's team has successfully targetted, their paper reported that the product was not correct variant, known as CCR5 Delta 32 and made another one which might not serve its destined purpose. 

It is said that the father of the twins is HIV infected. However, the virus was not transferred to his offspring because of immunity. Instead, the researchers have conducted "sperm washing", a well-established technique.

One of the co-authors, Rita Vessena from Eugin Group, said that He's study was nothing but just an attempt to pave the way on using CRISPR/Cas9 technology on human embryos "at all cost", rather than carefully planning which should have gone first. 

Gene-editing is Not the Key

He's team justified their research by providing statistics of HIV patients in China. According to them, the country witnessed a 64 percent increase in 2017 compared to 2012.

Fyodor Urnov, a genome-editing scientist from Innovative Genomics Institute, called the "blatant misrepresentation" of the study a "deliberate falsehood". He also compared He's expensive vision of ending the epidemic to the claim in 1969 that the moonwalk of that year will "bring hopes to millions of humans beings seeking to live on the moon".

The review also claimed that genome-editing is not a practical method in places where HIV is prevalent, as such in South Africa.

Co-author Hank Greely claimed that assuming all babies in the world would receive the CCR5 variant through modification, the effect would only be felt in two to three decades later, and by that time, better and more efficient technologies to control this epidemic will exist.

Vassena also said that current methods like public awareness and antiviral medications have been proven effective.

The CCR-5 Delta 32 is a genetic mutation usually found among European descents. Researches have claimed that it either delays the development of the infection or grants the carrier a complete immunity. 

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