Another designer baby scientist plans to take on incurable diseases

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"I don’t want to move forward until I have approval from ethical committees and regulators, and I think it will not be as crazy as [Jiankui's] steps."
"I don’t want to move forward until I have approval from ethical committees and regulators, and I think it will not be as crazy as [Jiankui's] steps."

In 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui sparked outrage in the scientific community for his use of the controversial genome-editing technique, CRISPR/Cas9 (the most successful form of Human germline engineering), on human embryos resulting in the birth of twin girls who Jiankui claimed were born immune to the HIV virus. 

The scientist had conducted his experiment in secret, announcing via Youtube that he had performed "gene surgery" to remove "the doorway through which HIV enters to infect people."

Because Jiankui was not considered an expert in the field, and his work not published via recognised medical journals, the experiment was condemned by the scientific community, with experts calling for "a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children." 

The impending moratorium, however, has not stopped another geneticist, Denis Rebrikov, from following in Jiankui's footsteps, reports Nature.com


Also see: Designer babies: Can you choose your baby's gender?

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According to the publication, "Rebrikov plans to disable the gene, which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter cells, in embryos that will be implanted into HIV-positive mothers, reducing the risk of them passing on the virus to the baby in utero." 

Once perfected, the scientist is also considering using CRISPR to tackle other incurable conditions like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, even cancer. 

But unlike Jiankui, Rebrikov hopes to secure the official go-ahead from the Russian government. 

Speaking to Science Magazine, Rebrikov said that he is aware of the international scientific community's stance on germline editing but that the practice has not been deemed illegal in his country. 

"As far as I know, we don’t have direct restriction of such type of experiments... I don’t want to move forward until I have approval from ethical committees and regulators, and I think it will not be as crazy as [Jiankui's] steps." 

When asked about his take on balancing the positives and the negatives, Rebrikov said: 

"Is it worth preventing some HIV transmission at the risk of decreasing longevity or putting people at risk of other diseases? It’s a philosophical question. Nobody knows the exact answer. It depends on a lot of factors."

Rebrikov confirmed that he has not gotten approval yet and his plans are only at the discussion phase. 

"We’ve just started to discuss it, and they say that if it will be a good clinical case, we can discuss it further." 

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