A Hong Kong researcher said in an elite conference in Berkeley, California earlier this year, scientists and ethics experts are discussing a new tool for gene editing, a technology that has turned the field into a core area. A DNA line forming a blueprint of life.
The young scientist He Jiankui saw the power of this tool to transform not only genes but his career as CRISPR.
William Hurlbut, Ph.D., Stanford University's Ethics Doctor, like Stanford University's Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley and Matthew Porteus of Stanford University, I have found a CRISPR pioneer.
Last week, shocked researchers said they helped make the world's first genetically engineered baby despite the scientific consensus that kidnapping an amazing international conference and causing genetic changes to keep a remarkable future. It is not attempted at this point.
Francis Collins, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, called it "an experiment in which scientists think he was a hero." In fact, he crossed every route scientifically and ethically. "
But no one could stop him. How can that be?
To be fair, scientists say there is no way to stop anyone who wants to monkey with DNA, regardless of law or standards. CRISPR is cheap and easy to use. So scientists began to worry that almost as soon as technology was invented, this would happen.
Scientists and the medical community have a long history of committing experiments sooner or later and suffering contempt and fear. Some of these have led to common practices such as in vitro fertilization.
Genetic editing for reproduction is prohibited in most of the US and Europe. In China, the ministerial guidelines prohibit embryo research that "violates ethical or moral principles".
He was not exactly frustrated with his goals. He studied internationally at Stanford University and Rice University and worked as a consultant before and during his post-graduate studies and elsewhere.
Should scientists who know his plan say it? Did they persuade him?
The answer is not clear.
"This is not a category of legal responsibility, but it is an ethical responsibility," Collins said. He did not say, "Scientists do not seem to be responsible."
The Chinese National Health Commission, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his own college have accused him of saying they are in the dark.
But Hurlbut, Porteus and three former Stanford scientists of Stephen Quake, Fellowship Advisor, have had extensive contact with him over the past few years. They and other scientists knew or strongly suspected that they were trying to make genetically modified babies.
Some believers did not think he would follow. Other people have raised concerns that they never pay attention.
Stanford did not respond to the interview request.
Quake, a professor of biotechnology, first knew that he had ambition. Quake said he had met him each time he was in town, and said he tried to resist the AIDS virus by paying attention to embryo editing for birth a few years ago.
Quake recommended that he only give general advice, talk to mainstream scientists, choose a situation in which the risk is reasonable, meet the highest ethical standards, and publish his findings in a peer review journal.
"My advice was very broad," said Quake.
Hurlbut thinks that he first met He in early 2017 when Doudna, co-inventor of CRISPR, held the first of three meetings with leading scientists and ethics scholars to discuss this technology.
"Anyway, he finished at our meeting," he said naked.
Since then, he has returned to Stanford several times, and Hulberg said he "spends a lot of time" on situations where genetic editing might be appropriate.
Four to five weeks ago, he said he had discussed the embryonic gene editing to prevent HIV. Hultt spokesman suspects that she was trying to transplant a fertilized embryo into a woman's womb.
"I admonished him." I did not see his work as a green light. I challenged him. I did not approve of what he was doing. "
Porteus said that Hurlbut had talked with Hurlbut and Hurlbut discouraged Chinese scientists. In February, he met Porteus and said he would move forward with the approval of the Hospital Ethics Committee.
"I was expecting him to accept me better and I was very negative," said Forteus. "I was angry at his innocence, I was angry at his recklessness."
Fortus spokesman said he "urged you to talk to your senior Chinese colleagues."
After the meeting, he said, "I could not hear from him and I thought he would not make progress." "Looking back I was able to cry by raising the hue."
He tried to journal a draft article on the gene editing twin girl, and UC Berkeley biophysicist Mark DeWitt thanked him for "editing the manuscript". DeWitt argued that he had edited the paper while he tried to dissuade him. He saw the newspaper, but his comments were "pretty common."
He argues that his work has caused a second pregnancy, can not be independently verified, and his work has not been published. He defended his actions at the Genetics Summit in Hong Kong last week.
In contrast, another US scientist said he had a big role in the project as well as encouraging him.
Dr Michael Deem, Ph.D., a biology professor at Rice University and a Ph.D. degree advisor, said that by 2012, a scientist had returned to China and attended an advisory council meeting and said he had "a small stake" in two gene engineering companies. In Shenzhen. Deem advocated his behavior by saying that the researchers had done an initial experiment on animals.
"We have several generations of animals that produce transgenic and viable offspring, and we are doing a lot of research on the unintended effects of other genes," he said. Deem also said that some research participants stayed in China when they agreed to try embryo editing.
Rice said she had no knowledge of DEM 's involvement and is currently investigating.
Most attention so far has focused on China's regulatory gap.
Lawario Isasi, an expert in American and Chinese genomics at the University of Miami, said this is not the whole story.
"Let's focus on how it happened, why it happened, and how it happened," says Isasi. "How can we build a system with better transparency?"
There are no international organizations to enforce bioethics rules, but other tools can be used by scientific institutions and universities.
Hank Greely, a professor of forensic science at Stanford University, said, "If someone breaks those rules, scientists can be rejected, journals can refuse to publish, employers can refuse to hire, I can do it. "
Greely expects the experiment to have a ripple effect on academia, regardless of whether the regulator is acting or not. "Colleges will look more closely at what's going to happen in the future, and this case will be a wake-up call for everyone involved in all the research."
Sometimes a bad start can, of course, turn into a better ending.
In 1980, Professor Martin Cline of the University of California, Los Angeles, was granted permission for the first gene therapy for two women in Israel and Italy because the UCLA was not approved.
Instead of presenting it in a scientific journal, Klein published his findings and was criticized for trying "genetic engineering" for people whose animals have not yet been proven safe and effective. Now that gene therapy has been established, it is still an extraordinary treatment.
Two years ago, in 1978 Dr. Robert Edwards received similar criticism when he released the world's first "in vitro baby" Louise Brown to the press. The work was later awarded the Nobel Prize, and IFV helped millions to have children.
And this year Louise Brown, the mother of two old sons, was 40 years old.