Twins from China and genetic experiment: what are the causes of the scandal

Chinese scholar Cisangkuy Ho announced that as a result of his experiment was born the first genetically modified children. Formally, the twins Lulu and Nana were resistant to HIV, but in fact negligence in the conduct of the experiment and the announcement of it United the citizens with experts in biology, ethics, and regulatory bodies.

Photo: AFP

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Cisangkuy Hae announced that it has made the girls, whose father is HIV-positive, resistant to virus after them at the level of embryo genetic editing. The mutation, which he tried to achieve, is not artificial, – among the people of Europe about one percent are not at risk of Contracting HIV because they were born with this type of the genome by themselves. In fact, this feature has long been known, and gives rise to one of the groups of approaches, which try to fight with HIV. Only at the level of adults, not before birth.

Cisangkuy Hae. Photo: Human Genome Editing summit

How to edit the genome?

Strange as it may sound, it is relatively easy. In the sense that the genome of different cells in advanced biological laboratories currently editing in quite the standby mode.

The edit method, referred, called CRISPR-Cas9. It was created, as it often happens, out of the blue – he saw in nature. Bacteria are much more easily arranged organisms than we are able to cut DNA in specific location – they need it for their little bacterial immunity (Yes, bacteria suffer from viral diseases). This ability to pick up a protein that can cut DNA at a pre-determined place, and managed to tame.

The use of this method goes far beyond the distant prospects of treatment of congenital genetic diseases in humans. In fact, this is the workhorse of biologists of different fields: CRISPR-Cas9 allows you to create a model of the system (i.e. “paint” in the cell) a variety of features, and such systems are studied as potential drugs, and fundamental scientific issues of the functioning of cells at the genetic level.

And man can be?

However, the ability to edit the human genome, of course, extremely alluring. Diseases associated with defects in the genome are rare, but most often incurable – these include down syndrome, some types of cleft lip, some heart diseases, hemophilia, and seems to be very attractive to stop them at the moment of conception – the formation of the genome. Therefore, in some countries, such experiments are conducted in the very early stages of development of embryo from zygote to blastocyst. A zygote is the status of the embryo immediately after fertilization of the egg by the sperm, that is the future of man at this point represents a single cell with a complete set of chromosomes (each reproductive cell carries only half).

The blastocyst is a multicellular stage, is a ball composed of cells two types of cells of the outer layer and inner cells. All of them from a few dozen to a few hundred.

Biological material for such studies is usually in abundant in the medical centers performing the procedure of IVF-ICSI. Initially, for fertilization to take not one but multiple eggs. This procedure neatbalsta, so you need to have stock, a sufficient number survived after fertilization.

“Hooked” is also not one embryo – it increases the chance that at least one will eventually catch on. During this “reassurance” and there are a zygote, which are used for research purposes.

At the level of embryo genome editing of human cells was first conducted in 2015. It also showed possible risks: editing is not always successful, and there is no guarantee that will be edited only the required part.

High (but not 100%) the probability of success is quite suitable for science experiments when you need to create a cell culture (the so-called cluster of cells, which then conducted an experiment), but absolutely unacceptable when we are talking about the life of the person.

So, then, many experts have called for, at least, do not rush to transfer this experience to real people.

Although the technical constraints for such experiment no: the procedure of editing of the genome described above and then the resulting embryo is quite similar to what is prepared for placing in ЭКО1.

Photo: unsplash

What are the causes of the Chinese scandal?

It was triggered by the fact that the transfer of laboratory experience in clinical practice was made a giant jump with a disregard for ethical standards and established the rules to be applied for even much more traditional medical innovation: new drugs are first tested on animals.

However, the bad in this story so all of that almost immediately, it was suggested that this is blasphemy – no twins does not exist.

And if they exist, it was the worst way to show the world the possibility of editing the human genome, writes science columnist for the Atlantic and one of the most respected science journalists in the world by ed Yong. Here are just some of these them giant bugs.

Secrecy. About the experiments of Dr Ho was not known even in his native South University of science and technology in Shenzhen six months ago, he took unpaid leave, and the University has already dissociated themselves from this work. As a result, virtually the only source of information about the revolutionary experience itself is its author. And the evidence of one man is not enough even for historical research – what can we say about the high genetics.

Target. There was no need to “treat” girls in this way: their father taking therapy against HIV, the viral load had been undetectable, and the likelihood that they would have been born sick, is very small. HIV, of course, much more appropriate for a headline than down syndrome or some even less known severe genetic disease. But such a strange choice even more discreditied researcher. In addition, there’s no way to check if it’s working edit – girl and so very likely not received the virus. And attempt to infect them intentionally – not going for this one even I hope so controversial physician as he (he, at least, does not Express such plans).

Violation of accepted practices. Ho broke all that you can. Informed consent from parents was received with violations. Because the experiment was confidential, it was not discussed on any of the ethics Committee and was completely devoid of a comprehensive interdisciplinary review. The results were not published in peer-reviewed scientific journal (that means until they must review a minimum of two reviewers and the editor, all three experts on the topic), and was told orally at the conference and posted on YouTube in collaboration with the advertising firm.

Negligence. Experimentation on humans was not preceded by experiments on the adjacent animal models (experts say about great apes). Even if you believe the results published by the author of the experiment, the edit was conducted not the best way: not all cells of the body girls have received the edited copy. The result is not very clear how their bodies will react not only on HIV but also on other diseases.

Illegality. Here we are entering into uncharted territory, because in most countries these experiments are simply not prescribed by law (including Russia). But this is a case where “what is not allowed is forbidden” – the risks and fears of this manipulation is obvious, and (rare!) they are divided as politicians and ordinary people, and scientists. A demarche Hae only contributes to “crackdown” – no state wants to take responsibility for a scandal of this magnitude.

The paradox of this situation is that experiences almost certainly will not stop. The forces of the state only to prohibit some research on state funds.

But thus they only will go into the shadows where they are absolutely impossible to regulate. Undoubtedly, there are rich people who decide to spend their money on a promising technology.

There are very poor people who become egg donors to make ends meet (recently published an article that low-income Americans donate plasma blood, which then goes to China), and will act as surrogate mothers. So it’s a much more constructive it would not prohibit, but to regulate the maximum forward adjusted in small steps. However, the “HYIP” from Dr. Ho is likely closed or permanently closed the road to this approach.

1 the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to the IVF procedure and the use of embryos for medical purposes is reflected in the 12th Chapter of the document “Social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

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