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The World's First 'Designer Babies' - But What Next?

on Tuesday, 12 March 2019.

A scientist called He Jiankui has shocked the science world with claims that he has produced the world's first genetically edited babies - Lulu and Nana. He also claims a second patient is in early pregnancy.

The development could be a massive game-changer for biomedical research, but it is highly controversial - with concerns that it will lead to 'designer babies'. The breakthrough could lead to the elimination of hereditary diseases, by enabling DNA to be modified.

"For this, I feel proud," Mr He told the Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong.

His claims now need to be verified. Mr He has been working for years in secret in China as an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen.

However, there are ethical concerns. About 100 scientists, including many based in China, have condemned this as dangerous and unjustified. In an open letter, they said, "Pandora's box has been opened."

In many countries including the UK, it is illegal to create genetically modified babies. Many scientists believe it would be unethical even to try. They consider genome editing unsafe, and genetic modifications – whether beneficial or unintentionally harmful – could affect the child and their future generations.

Kathy Niakan, a scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, criticised this programme: "It is impossible to overstate how irresponsible, unethical and dangerous this is at the moment. There was a worrying lack of oversight or scrutiny of his clinical plans before he started human experiments and a complete lack of transparency throughout the process."

Do you have any thoughts on this development? Do you think it is potentially a good thing if kept within closely defined and supervised boundaries, or is the whole idea dangerous and unsafe for the evolution of the human race? Please share them with Paul Gershlick in our Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences team on 01923 919 320.

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