Daniel Halliday
May 18 · Last update 1 mo. ago.

Was Dr. He Jiankui justified in using CRISPR/Cas9 technology in a human experiment?

In November 2018 biophysics researcher Dr He Jiankui claimed to have created the first genetically engineers babies, born the month previously. Through this experimental use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology Dr He faces strong criticism internationally. Is Dr He Jiankui a genetics pioneer or a cruel gambler, and was he justified in using CRISPR/Cas9 technology in a human experiment?
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The Chinese government’s involvement
0 agrees
0 disagrees
Not justified and possibly not even effective
0 agrees
0 disagrees
Yes, research and the discussion of morality need to continue
0 agrees
0 disagrees
No, but it will continue regardless
0 agrees
0 disagrees
Yes – Research and experimentation need to go ahead
1 agrees
0 disagrees
No, lack of consent, safety and ethics
1 agrees
0 disagrees
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The Chinese government’s involvement

While the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in a human trial may remain contentious, the story could be more complicated as various government institutions may have been involved in funding the study, leading some to believe that Dr He Jiankui is the scapegoat to hide a larger controversy of government support of this controversy. According to three documents made publicly available, the patient consent forms, China’s clinical trial registry, and a presentation slideshow prepared by Dr He’s team, the government have funded He's research through the Ministry of Science and Technology, Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and the Southern University of Science and Technology. Bioethicists, such as Jing-Bao Nie and Lei Ruipeng, have argued that He Jiankui couldn’t have carried out such work without the government’s approval, and believe it is likely that He thought his work merited a Nobel Prize, while the government would see it as profitable, but He was depicted as a lone maverick following an international backlash from the scientific community.

statnews.com/2019/02/25/crispr-babies-study-china-government-funding newsweek.com/he-jiankui-gene-editing-funded-government-china-1344240 nytimes.com/2019/01/21/world/asia/china-gene-editing-babies-he-jiankui.html gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/how-are-governments-regulating-crispr-and-new-breeding-technologies-nbts

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Daniel Halliday
Nov 11
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DH edited this paragraph
While the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in a human trial may remain contentious, the story could be more complicated as various government institutions may have been involved in funding the study, leading some to believe that Dr He Jiankui is the scapegoat to hide a larger controversy of government support of this controversy. According to three documents made publicly available, the patient consent forms, China’s clinical trial registry, and a presentation slideshow prepared by Dr He’s team, the government have funded He's research through the Ministry of Science and Technology, Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and the Southern University of Science and Technology. Bioethicists, such as Jing-Bao Nie and Lei Ruipeng, have argued that He Jiankui couldn’t have carried out such work without the government’s approval, and believe it is likely that He thought his work merited a Nobel Prize, while the government would see it as profitable, but He was depicted as a lone maverick following an international backlash from the scientific community.

Not justified and possibly not even effective

This is simply a claim and may not have even happened, it is a massively complicated procedure to carry this out on human embryos and the technology is such that not all implications are fully understood. This represents a huge jump ahead in this field and the lack of evidence, the secrecy and polished announcement video have left some critics doubting whether it even occurred and whether it may be more of a PR stunt than an actual experiment, as this was highly unusual compared to normal peer-reviewed study process. Others have criticised Dr He’s assertions that his team 'edited' the genes of the children, pointing out that in fact they have mutated their genetic code rather than precisely transplanted the genetic material, so describing it as “gene editing” would be misleading. Likewise the mutations made to the protein mechanism that He claimed would prevent HIV infection have never been seen before in humans, so their effectiveness and safety remains unknown also.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417674 nytimes.com/2018/11/26/health/gene-editing-babies-china.html ipscell.com/2018/12/he-jiankiu-didnt-really-gene-edit-those-girls-he-mutated-them statnews.com/2019/04/15/jiankui-embryo-editing-ccr5

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Daniel Halliday
Nov 11
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Yes, research and the discussion of morality need to continue

Human genome research is too important to not continue, but such research should continue in line with the discussion around the topic of the morality of gene-editing in humans, they need to go forward together. There was obviously a clear and urgent need for discourse surrounding the subject, and the establishment of firm guidelines to deal with such research following Dr Jiankui's controversy. But China is now leading the way by already regulating against this research; other countries now need to do the same also, as there will inevitably be other pushes to use gene-editing technology in humans.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394183 nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01580-1

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Daniel Halliday
Nov 11
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No, but it will continue regardless

This is morally wrong, but sadly a research environment like China’s will probably advance their scientific and economic situation, making future research like this all the more likely. The lack of clinical trial infrastructure makes transparency and human rights of participant’s big issues, and the morality in some of China’s research community will ensure further chances to carry on with morally questionable experimentation. While this may be a problem in other states also there is a distinct difficulty in the implementation of the national guidelines that are in place in China, as they have only began to regulate medical bioethics in the last few decades, adopting ethical principles from the international community.

statnews.com/2018/08/03/china-clinical-trials-infrastructure-transparency ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1559670

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Daniel Halliday
Nov 11
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Yes – Research and experimentation need to go ahead

The advent of CRISPR/Cas9 as an affordable gene editing technology is too exciting to limit it legally as in the case of America and Europe, and now possibly in China to some degree also. Where it should be crucial to gain full consent in every use, the evolution and development of this technology on humans will inevitably only come from its use on humans. It’s too important a discovery to limit it for moral reasons, where current morally dire and unsolvable medical issues are causing immense suffering that could potentially be completely relieved though techniques such as this.

theguardian.com/science/2015/dec/02/why-human-gene-editing-must-not-be-stopped

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Daniel Halliday
Aug 9
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No, lack of consent, safety and ethics

This remains an experimental technology and there is a lack of research on human embryos, rendering Dr He Jiankui’s research a gamble at best, as he would have had no idea if this technology would work on as complex an organism as a human. Additionally consent seems to have been a massive issue in this research also, as misleading consent forms were used, and it is not clear how well the procedure and its lack of approval were explained to the parents before the experiment was carried out. The international science community, the Chinese government and even Doctor He’s university do not think that this is ethical, and he has subsequently lost his job and been placed under government surveillance as he awaits this case going to trial.

scienceretractions.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/why-is-he-jiankui-in-real-trouble-with-china-justice nytimes.com/2018/11/26/health/gene-editing-babies-china.html

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Daniel Halliday
May 18
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