Genetic testing on children – The Pandora’s box has been opened

The twins Lulu and Nana could go down in the history books: Rarely is a announced birth among researchers and the lay has taken care of the world for such excitement. Of a “Super-GAU” for the science, the Chairman of the German ethics Council, Peter Dabrock speaks. And the Chairman of the European ethics Committee (EGE), Christiane Woopen, calls for Intervention by the international community. “The Pandora’s box has been opened”, warn more than 120 Chinese scientists.

What happened? “Two beautiful little Chinese girl named Lulu and Nana came a few weeks ago crying and as healthy as any other Baby to the world”, announced He Jiankui from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen on the Internet platform YouTube. He has manipulated accordingly, in the case of artificial fertilisation, the genomes of the children. With the Genschere Crispr/Cas9 he inactivated in the embryo, the Gene for the cell receptor CCR5. The is the most important, but not the only entry point for the HI Virus in the cells of the body. The intervention should protect the children from possible infection with the Aids pathogen, argued He on YouTube.

Much is strange in his approach – if it is true at all. About that he is not presenting the message in a professional journal or at a conference, but via the Internet, declared to the world. Or that he has concealed his Uni controversial steps – the implantation of manipulated embryos, the pregnancy and the birth of the twins, apparently. The University was “deeply shocked” and distanced himself from He.

In many countries – but not in China – it is forbidden to the genome edit of germ cells in humans. And with good reason: The consequences of Crispr/Cas9-interventions are still largely unknown. Lulu and Nana could carry serious disadvantages of them and their descendants inherit.

Manipulation of 16 embryos

He treated according to their own figures, seven couples with infertility. In doing so, he compromised with the Genschere Crispr/Cas9, a total of 16 embryos, 11 of which were implanted in six women. Finally, there were – according to current knowledge, – a birth. However, both copies of genes for the CCR5 are inactivated only in the case of a child Receptor.

Crispr/Cas9 has been used since 2012 and has conquered research laboratories in the world in the storm. Because by doing so, researchers can genotype relative to the target, with separate and specific genes inactivate. So, in the meantime, the genomes of microorganisms and plants – and in the context of gene therapies also of people. The therapeutic use of sperm, ova and embryos, however, on the Index – not least because it is unclear what effects the technology has on other Places of the genome.

Consequences for the girl are unclear

“Genome editing with Crispr/Cas9 is a simple but not very precise, the System makes mistakes,” said Joachim Hauber of the Heinrich Pette Institute in Hamburg. One could not exclude the possibility that the Genschere engaging also in other Places into the genome. In addition, the cell could make the Connect of the cut DNA Ends of the error. This could show up only after years. “The two children are able to pass these changes on to its offspring,” says Hauber. “Such a course of action I condemn in the strongest possible terms.”

Especially since the Use of He-led – a child is a part of protection against HIV is highly questionable. “The inactivation of the CCR5 receptor has a Fig-leaf function,” says Hauber. “This brings to the children.” Instead, the cons threatened even: studies suggest that about a West-Nile-Virus-infection in people without the CCR5 Receptor significantly heavier.

Ethicists to to grip Hey sharp. The Erlanger theologian Dabrock speaks of a “shameless, irresponsible human experiment”, the Cologne-based Bioethicist Woopen of a violation of human rights. The experts also reacts in disbelief: “Direct Experiments on human beings can only be described as being crazy,” 122 Chinese researchers. “The Pandora’s box has been opened, and we may have a Chance to close them before the damage is irreparable.”

Also, two of the three Crispr/Cas9-discoverer of Hey criticize sharply. Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley, speaks of an urgent need to restrict the use of the embryos. Feng Zhang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology does not even call for a Moratorium on the planting genome edited embryos, because of the possible risks by far.

That He proclaimed the birth of the girl just now, is perhaps not a coincidence: On Tuesday should start in Hong Kong in a genome researchers-Congress expected, among other things, Doudna and Zhang. There, He holds patents on the method and a genetic engineering company has to keep on Wednesday a lecture. The attention of the world is him for sure.

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