Viewpoint: He Jiankui’s CRISPR babies experiment was ‘even worse than I first thought’

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He Jiankui. Image: VCG

When He Jiankui announced the birth of twin girls whose DNA he had modified when they were embryos using the CRISPR gene-editing tool, he justified his actions on the ground that he had given the two girls lifetime immunity from HIV infection. The Chinese scientist claimed that he had altered a gene called CCR5. …

He’s experiment has been widely, roundly, scorchingly, and appropriately condemned. The risks to the babies born nine months later were vastly higher than the benefits to them or to science… .

My message here is that CCR5∆32 does not guarantee immunity to HIV infection. It works only for strains of HIV-1 that use both the CD4 and CCR5 cell surface receptors to infect T cells.

Related article:  CRISPR immunizes chickens against deadly virus, potentially boosting global egg and meat production

Would a serious advance review of He’s experiment have caught this issue? I can only hope so. It certainly should have if the reviewing group included expertise in HIV infection and not just in CRISPR editing. This is a crucial lesson in the importance of a probing prior review before any experiment involving human subjects and especially before any first-in-human experiment. …

Nature is complicated, viruses are tricky, assumptions are dangerous — and He Jiankui’s experiment was, amazingly, even worse than I first thought.

Read full, original post: He Jiankui, embryo editing, CCR5, the London patient, and jumping to conclusions

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