About chromosomal mayhem in edited embryos

Luigi Naldini, SR-Tiget

CRISPeR Frenzy asked Luigi Naldini of the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy in Milan for comment on three studies published in June on the preprint server bioRxiv. The experiments were carried out independently by the groups of Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute in London, Dieter Egli of Columbia University in New York City, and Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. These findings heighten safety concerns about heritable genome editing (see the news item by Heidi Ledford in Nature). Below you can read Naldini’s thoughts.

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CRISPR-baby sentence, too little info to comment?

The year 2019 ended with three years in jail sentenced to He Jiankui for illegal medical practice. The CRISPR-baby scandal’s epilogue was applauded on twitter by a few leading scientists such as Craig Venter and Fyodor Urnov and decried on STAT News by the controversial biohacker Josiah Zayner. Most experts, however, stayed silent.

As stressed by the Washington Post, “the judicial proceedings were not public, and outside experts said it is hard to know what to make of the punishment without the release of the full investigative report or extensive knowledge of Chinese law and the conditions under which He will be incarcerated.”

The CRISPR-babies scandal a year later – Q&A

Exactly one year ago, AP News went public with the CRISPR-babies story. What happened to He Jiankui then? His trace was lost after the picture of him sequestered in a university guesthouse in Shenzhen. 

How are Lulu&Nana? Nobody knows, but at least the study suggesting they might die early has been retracted.

What became of the global governance of germline editing? Waiting for the Science academies and the WHO reports in 2020. 

What about the next baby-editing? Denis Rebrikov says he plans to do extensive safety checks before seeking approval to implant an edited embryo. 

Last but not least, how many couples are interested in germline editing? Very few, according to calculations published in The CRISPR Journal.

Picks of the week

The ethics of using CRISPR to improve the odds of savior siblings. This is when a couple tries to have another baby who is both healthy and a suitable donor “match” for their older kid (“Could editing the DNA of embryos with CRISPR help save people who are already alive?“, STAT News, Sept. 16).

Carl Zimmer explaining a CRISPR experiment carried out to understand why many cancer drugs fail (“Why Aren’t Cancer Drugs Better? The Targets Might Be Wrong”, New York Times, Sept. 11; see also the paper in Science Translational Medicine)

CRISPR news: the good, the bad and the ugly

read-the-newsHistory in the making: student experiment edits DNA with CRISPR technology in space (Iss national lab blog)

Emails reveal that a facility in Dubai and others have asked geneticist He Jiankui for help in gene-editing embryos (The Scientist)

New worries about CRISPR babies: gene edits might have shortened their life expectancy (Nature)

The M-word and a CRISPR divorce

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier (L) and professor Jennifer Doudna of the U.S. pose for the media during a visit to a painting exhibition by children about the genome, at the San Francisco park in OviedoWhere is Jennifer Doudna? This is the first thought most journalists had – me included – when reading the list of signatories to the call for the moratorium on heritable genome editing just published by Nature. The Boston team is well represented by Lander, Zhang and Liu (nobody would expect George Church to join that call). But the magnificent couple Doudna-Charpentier has conspicuously split up. Continue reading

CRISPR best and worst in 2018

CRISPR contributed to Science’s Breakthrough of the Year and was also nominated for the Breakdown category by the same journal. The second nomination was an easy guess: He Jiankui and its baby-editing claim were also mentioned in Nature’s 10 for 2018. Much more interesting is the decision to celebrate cell-barcoding, the CRISPR-based technique used to track embryo development in stunning detail and over time. Continue reading

CRISPR babies, not so breaking news?

nyt front page news

Never at the top of front pages (Nyt, 27 Nov. 2018)

Twenty days after the announcement, many questions remain. The one certainty seems to be that the first  CRISPR babies are less breaking news than expected.

They will be in front pages again, probably, if and when the scientific paper gets published, if and when the baby-editor He Jiankui resurfaces, if and when the first photos of Lulu and Nana are circulated. But if the coverage of Dolly the sheep is considered in comparison, there’s no match. Why?

The media world has changed dramatically in the meantime, CRISPR is still unknown to many, China is perceived as a Wild East where anything can happen. But a sheep is always a sheep, and babies are babies. We should care about the first edited kids more than that. Maybe people are less troubled by human genome editing than most bioethicists. Perhaps the media have had enough of Gattaca, Frankenstein, and the likes. Did we cry wolf too often yesterday to get people interested today?

He’s version

He 5 core principles

Don’t miss the “Draft Ethical Principles for Therapeutic Assisted Reproductive Technologies” just published by He Jiankui et al. in The CRISPR Journal. It seems the Lulu and Nana’s experiment is at odds even with their own guidelines. We are eager to hear more from He’s voice, his talk in Hong Kong is scheduled on Wednesday, 28 November 2018 (Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing-live broadcast)