Tuesday , August 9 2022

An outsider has a history of genome editing; The world exploded with attention


I amn 2010, a graduate student at Rice University named He Jiankui published an article describing the rough details of the immune immune system, called Crisper. It was long before scientists unlocked the news that CRISPR could be used to manipulate DNA with the accuracy and ease that other genome editors lacked.

Now, only eight years later, and after returning to his homeland in China, he burst into the world stage in a most spectacular way – the entrance is seen as a strict choreography even when he ignored guidelines set by global scientific panels. He used YouTube rather than an academic journal, arguing that with Krisper's help he helped create the first babies in the world – twin girls born a few weeks ago – whose genomes were transient. The message dropped like a surprise Beyonce album.

The lawsuit, which was not verified by external investigators, was cited by some as a scientific milestone, an unprecedented step to prevent all kinds of diseases. But others saw it as the exact opposite: the reckless explosion of scientific taboos for personal gain. After all, many more experienced researchers had technical knowledge to try what he did, but they respected the ethical barriers. This study is also illegal in the United States.


He was a Jiankui (pronounced HEH Jee-a-qway), who was previously known to many Western CRISPR experts, immediately found himself in the middle of a storm of criticism for the lack of transparency in his research, the choice of a gene that was edited, and pursued by this study .

"I'm trying to figure out what could have moved the work he was describing," said a scientist who helped organize a big Hong Kong summit on genome editing, which begins on Tuesday and asked not to be called. "As far as I can tell, it was a combination of hubris, naiveté, and perhaps a genuine desire to help people in need," he said, adding that he did not anticipate the deep public reactions to his work and how it was published.

He was clearly aware of the attention he would make. He reportedly worked with an American public relations expert; Gave early interviews to the Associated Press, with global reach; Schedule the big exposure to the beginning of the summit; And published a series of YouTube videos in English celebrating the achievement.

But he also caught the world on guard, keeping his activities hidden from the wider scientific community. Information about his clinical trial, for example, was published in Chinese online registration only this month. Experts predicted the first baby to be born after careful discussions of regulations and ethics and strict safeguards – all done in a way that would not frighten the public.

Even his university, from which he had taken leave since February, had moved away from the study and said she knew nothing about the work and that it was "run off campus" and "seriously violated academic ethics and code of conduct.

Beyond condemnation, genome editing experts simply remained puzzled by the researcher behind the announcement. Kreisper pioneered Feng Aang's wide institute and said he had never met he, as far as he remembered. He does not have a comprehensive history of publishing articles on genome editing or embryology or the gene that is disabled in fetuses, CCR5, to try to give resistance to HIV infection. Much of the social media returned to this question: What was it? This guy Does editing embryos?

Maybe he should have been more familiar. In a conversation last year at the Spring Harbor Cold Lab, he discussed genome editing of mouse embryos, monkeys, and human embryos (ie, human embryos in the laboratory, ie, not into the uterus and start pregnancies). Aang said he skipped the conversation.

But he earned is a venue on the weekend in Hong Kong; His panel is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Hong Kong. This is a sign that the CRISPR embryos project has caught the global scientific community by surprise, but its slit is not a plenary session, usually reserved for the biggest news news of a conference.

Just three days ago he wrote an article in the CISPR Journal that offers five "ethical principles" that will guide the use of genome editing in the clinic. The second writer in the paper: Ryan Pearl, an American public relations man who worked with the pioneer of the Crossfire project.

Among the elements he calls them: open dialogue.

From China to the US and back

Is a career track that highlights some prominent facts: His scientific background is wide, but lacks deep expertise in CRISPR and embryology. The public records indicate that he is only 34 years old, at which age many of the senior researchers simply open their first laboratories.

Born and born in China, he received a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Science and Technology of China in 2006. He moved to Texas to receive his doctorate in biophysics at Rice University in Houston; His advisor, biomedical engineer Michael Dim, will collaborate with him in the CRISPRD project.

After completing his studies in 2010, he spent about a year doing a postdoctoral thesis at the Stanford Lab in Boeing, Steven Quake. It was there that is studied on a single molecule sequence – a revolutionary method then sequencing individual DNA molecules without the need to copy them using a polymerase chain reaction, according to the 2015 story in the Bio-IT world.

He returned to China around 2012. It is unclear why he decided to return home, but some factors may have come into play. He wanted to spin companies from his academic research in China, according to Bio-IT World. And financial incentives contributed to his decision: he returned to China as part of the "Thousand Talents" program, an initiative in which the Chinese government offered incentives to try to bring back the best scientists and entrepreneurs who did their training United States

He opened a laboratory at the South University of Science and Technology of Shenzhen China. (His current leave from this position is supposed to last until 2021.). He also started several companies, including a DNA sequencing company called Direct Genomics.

He seems to have retained some of the relationships he forged during his training in the United States – especially with Dame, his adviser to Rice.

Deem said that research suitable for the work they did on vaccines during the time is in Houston. In addition to their research at CRISPR, Deem has collaborated on research on the speed of gene evolution and ways to detect emerging and dangerous influenza strains.

They were also listed as authors of a study published last year described using a single molecule sequence to decipher the genome of the virus. Other authors on paper 2017 worked in Direct Genomics.

On Monday, Rice said she had begun an investigation into Dym's role in the CrossFire embryos project and said the study "violates scientific guidelines and is inconsistent with the ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University." The response could not be reached.

Move quickly while dropping caution

In the YouTube videos he used to reveal his amazing demands to the world, he sits in a meaningless lab with background instruments; He wears a light button-down shirt, no tie and no coat. He spoke slowly and in English, and felt an unusual emotional tone.

He described his work only a few years after creating "designer babies," which he condemned. He also implored his audience to look beyond criticism, that his work might ignite, a confident expression that his project would be viewed favorably by history.

"Keep in mind that while there are vocal critics, there are many silent families who have seen a child suffering from a genetic disease and should not suffer the pain again," he said to the camera in one of the videos. "They can not be the director of the Ethics Center quoted by The New York Times, but they are just as much about what is right and wrong – because their life is on the line."

But overwhelmingly, he does not claim to have been dealing with a genetic disease with CRISPR's embryo project. Instead, he says he has used HIV, a disease for which there are relatively simple ways to prevent HIV-infected parents from infecting their children.

And big questions remained about whether this project would help a family whose babies were laid out in the garden. Independent scientists who reviewed some of the documents said there was not enough evidence yet to determine whether the editing worked as planned or safe. They also raised concerns about the implications of the admission that he admitted that one of the twins in the garden had changed in both copies of the CCR5, while the other had changed only one copy.

At the end another one is YouTube videos, he provides an email address to his lab – and more ([email protected]) for viewers who want to write the two evaluated gene values, which he says are called Lulu and Nana.

While he was harassed for having done too fast too, he had previously emphasized moving patiently and deliberately when discussing embryos was held.

In his conversation in 2017, he raised the death of Jesse Gelsinger from 1999 in an early gene therapy trial that had set up this field for more than a decade.

Researchers who may be tempted to use a CRISPR embryo to start a pregnancy should remember the case, he suggested.

"I want to remind everyone that we need to do it slowly, with a little caution," he said, "because one case of failure could kill the whole field."

Sharon Bagley contributed a report from Hong Kong.

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