Skip to main content
Interesting Articles

Chinese Scientist Says First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Born in Effort to Fight HIV

By November 27, 2018No Comments

A Chinese researcher says his lab facilitated the first birth of gene-edited children — twin girls who are said to possess genetic alterations that could protect them from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“Two beautiful little Chinese girls, named Lulu and Nana, came crying into this world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago. The girls are home now,” He Jiankui, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in a YouTube video.

If confirmed, the report is certain to bring the ethical issues surrounding human genetic engineering into sharp focus, and could lead either to rapid developments in the technology or regulatory limits.

He’s lab made clear that Lulu and Nana are pseudonyms, which are being used to protect their privacy. The names that He gave for the parents, Mark and Grace, are presumably pseudonyms as well.

In a series of videos, He said his lab devised the experiment to help parents with the HIV virus feel more confident about having children. Mark, the father of Lulu and Nana, has HIV, the researcher said.

“Employers fire people like Mark,” He said. “Doctors deny medical care, and even forcibly sterilize women. Mark and Grace couldn’t bear to bring a child into that world of fear. … A gene surgery that could save a child from a lethal genetic disease like cystic fibrosis or life-threatening infection like HIV doesn’t just give that little boy or girl an equal chance at a healthy life. We heal a whole family.”

The Associated Press quoted He as saying that he practiced using the CRISPR gene-editing technique on animal subjects for several years. Then, working through an advocacy group for HIV patients, He’s lab signed up couples for in-vitro fertilization. According to the AP account, researchers altered 16 embryos to disable a gene known as CCR5, which plays a key role in the spread of the HIV virus.

“This surgery removed the doorway through which HIV enters to infect people,” He said on video.

Eleven of the embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He told AP. Genetic tests conducted after the girls’ birth confirmed that changes in the CCR5 gene persisted, the researcher said.