On Nov. 26, a Shenzhen scientist He Jiankui announced the birth of two twin gene-edited babies Lulu and Nana, one day before the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing. One of their genes is edited to resist the AIDS virus. This is the first case of gene-edited babies in history, which marks China’s medical breakthrough in the application of gene editing for disease prevention.
The International Summit on Human Genome Editing will be held from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29. It is co-hosted by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, the Royal Society, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and U.S. National Academy of Medicine. The summit is aimed for advancing global dialogues in genome editing and relevant social and psychological issues, and it had gathered relevant stakeholders including researchers, ethicists, policymakers as well as representatives from medical academies and institutions.
According to He Jiankui, gene editing surgeries has one more step than test tube babies, infusing Cas9 enzyme and the guide RNA sequence into the fertilized egg. The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology their team used can precisely target and revise human genes.
He also put forward the “core values” in genetic technology research and application, including five ethical principles including “Mercy for families in need”, “Only for serious disease, never vanity”, “Respect a child’s autonomy”, “Genes do not define you” and “Everyone deserves freedom from genetic disease”.
As DNA-sequencing pioneer, George Church, expressed it in an interview with the Guardian on Feb. 2018, “Right now, genome sequencing is like the internet back in the late 1980s. It was there, but no one was using it.” He Jiankui and his team has now become the first to apply gene sequencing into making “customized” babies. “Among the fierce competition of gene editing around the globe, we hope we can stand out.” He Jiankui and his team wrote in their moral statement last year. They believe that what they do have surpassed the vitro fertilization (IVF) technology that won the Nobel Prize.
Featured photo credit to Zhihu.