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Scientist plans to make more genome-edited babies

17 June 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1002

A Russian scientist has announced his intention to produce genome-edited babies.

If geneticist Dr Denis Rebrikov were to go through with this proposal, he would become only the second scientist to do this. Dr Rebrikov, who is head of a genome-editing laboratory at the Kulakoc National Medical Research Centre of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Perinatology in Moscow, told his plans to Nature News.

His announcement comes in the wake of the controversial claim by Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui last November that he had produced the world's first babies from genome-edited embryos

Dr He's claim was met with international outcry (see BioNews 977). Subsequently, there has been heated debate among the scientific community, leading to recommendations that experiments involving edits to the human germline should be banned until an appropriate ethical and safety framework can be implemented. 

Like Dr He, Dr Rebrikov intends to use the CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing approach to target a gene called CCR5 that encodes a protein used by HIV-1 to enter cells. A specific mutation in this gene, which is found naturally in some individuals, can result in resistance to HIV-1 infection. 

While Dr He chose to delete the CCR5 gene in embryos created from fathers with HIV, Dr Rebrikov instead plans to disable the CCR5 gene in embryos that will then be implanted into HIV-positive mothers.

He claims that this will reduce the risk of the virus being passed on to the fetus. However, some evidence suggests that having an inactive CCR5 gene could cause a range of health risks and shorten an individual's lifespan (see BioNews 1001).

In addition, a major concern of genome-editing technologies is the possibility of off-target effects – misplaced changes to the genome that could have side effects that are not easy to predict. If genome-edited embryos are allowed to grow into babies, then these off-target effects pose a health concern, and can also be passed on to future generations

'The technology is not ready,' CRISPR pioneer Professor Jennifer Doudna, at the University of California, Berkeley, told Nature News. 'It is not surprising, but it is very disappointing and unsettling.'

Dr Rebrikov anticipates that regulations regarding genome-editing in embryos will be clarified by Russia's health ministry in the next nine months. However, he already has an agreement in place with a Russian HIV clinic to recruit participants to his experiment, and is looking to seek approval from three government agencies.

The scientific committee advising the World Health Organisation is unlikely to issue its final recommendations regarding human genome-editing until 2020. However, with experiments like this in the pipeline, many researchers agree that testing and implementing appropriate safety measures should be a priority.

Biologist Plans to Make More CRISPR-edited Babies - 'I Think I’m Crazy Enough to Do It'
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Editorial: Act now on CRISPR babies
Nature News |  11 June 2019
Russian biologist plans more CRISPR-edited babies
Nature News |  10 June 2019
Russian geneticist answers challenges to his plan to make gene-edited babies
Science |  13 June 2019
12 July 2021 - by Jen Willows 
The World Health Organisation has released new guidelines for the governance of genome editing in humans...
3 February 2020 - by Dr Patrick Foong 
Dr He Jiankui, who claimed that the world's first babies had been born with edited genomes, has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined for performing 'illegal medical practices'...
21 October 2019 - by Dr Helen Robertson 
Russian biologist Dr Denis Rebrikov has begun genome editing eggs with the reported objective of learning how deaf couples can have children without the genetic mutation that impairs hearing...
21 October 2019 - by Dr Marieke Bigg 
In the BBC documentary, Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal, science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson tackle the difficult subject of eugenics...
16 September 2019 - by Charlotte Spicer 
Chinese scientists have used the genome editing tool CRISPR in an attempt to treat HIV in a patient with blood cancer, for the first time...
10 June 2019 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The gene mutation that Dr He Jiankui aimed to emulate in the world's first genome-edited babies, has been linked to increased deaths in later life...
25 February 2019 - by Isobel Steer 
A gene called CCR5 has been shown to affect people's ability to recover after stroke. It is the same gene at the heart of the recent controversial case of genome edited babies in China...
3 December 2018 - by Rachel Siden 
Authorities in China are moving to suspend the research activities of the scientists who claim to have modified the genomes of twin girls with CRISPR-Cas9...
26 November 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The first births from genome-edited human embryos have been announced by a Chinese researcher amid widespread condemnation, and fears over safety...
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