AI News, Kevin Mulcahy on Twitter: "FAST FORWARD: How virtual reality ... artificial intelligence

SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) and their art gallery from Aug. 12 – 16, 2018 (making the world synthetic) in Vancouver (Canada)

Scientists, He Jiankui and Michael Deem, may have created the first human babies born after being subjected to CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing.  At this point, no one is entirely certain that these babies  as described actually exist since the information was made public in a rather unusual (for scientists) fashion.

The news broke on Sunday, November 25, 2018 through a number of media outlets none of which included journals associated with gene editing or high impact journals such as Cell, Nature, or Science.The news broke in MIT Technology Review and in Associated Press.

However, data submitted as part of the trial listing shows that genetic tests have been carried out on fetuses as late as 24 weeks, or six months.

Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.

It’s a big deal.” However, one famed geneticist, Harvard University’s George Church, defended attempting gene editing for HIV, which he called “a major and growing public health threat.” “I think this is justifiable,” Church said of that goal.

“The girls are home now with their mom, Grace, and dad, Mark.” The claim has yet to be formally verified, but if true, it represents a landmark in the continuing ethical and scientific debate around gene editing.

Editing an embryo [it’s often called, germline editing] is very different: It changes every cell in the body of the resulting person, including the sperm or eggs that would pass those changes to future generations.

It’s reckless on safety grounds, and imprudent and stupid on social grounds.” He notes that a landmark summit in 2015 (which included Chinese researchers) and a subsequent major report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine both argued that “public participation should precede any heritable germ-line editing.” That is: Society needs to work out how it feels about making gene-edited babies before any babies are edited.

[emphasis mine] The Chinese teams who first used it to edit human embryos only did so successfully in a small proportion of cases, and even then, they found worrying levels of “off-target mutations,” where they had erroneously cut parts of the genome outside their targeted gene.

In the video, He said that using CRISPR for human enhancement, such as enhancing IQ or selecting eye color, “should be banned.” Speaking about Nana and Lulu’s parents, he said that they “don’t want a designer baby, just a child who won’t suffer from a disease that medicine can now prevent.” But his rationale is questionable.

[emphasis mine] The team’s informed-consent document describes their work as an “AIDS vaccine development project,” and while it describes CRISPR gene editing, it does so in heavily technical language.

It doesn’t mention any of the risks of disabling CCR5, and while it does note the possibility of off-target effects, it also says that the “project team is not responsible for the risk.” He owns two genetics companies, and his collaborator, Michael Deem of Rice University,  [emphasis mine] holds a small stake in, and sits on the advisory board of, both of them.

Gina Kolata, Sui-Lee Wee, and Pam Belluck writing in a Nov. 26, 2018 article for the New York Times chronicle some of the response to He’s announcement, It is highly unusual for a scientist to announce a groundbreaking development without at least providing data that academic peers can review.

The university that Dr. He is attached to, the Southern University of Science and Technology, said Dr. He has been on no-pay leave since February and that the school of biology believed that his project “is a serious violation of academic ethics and academic norms,” according to the state-run Beijing News.

At the conference, whose organizers included Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of Crispr technology, Dr. He gave a careful talk about something that fellow attendees considered squarely within the realm of ethically approved research.

Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who co-led an advisory group on human gene editing for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, said that group and a similar organization in Britain had determined that if human genes were to be edited, the procedure should only be done to address “serious unmet needs in medical treatment, it had to be well monitored, it had to be well followed up, full consent has to be in place.” It is not clear why altering genes to make people resistant to H.I.V.

Deem, the US scientist who worked in China with He is currently being investigated (from a Nov. 26, 2018 article by Andrew Joseph in STAT), Rice University said Monday that it had opened a “full investigation” into the involvement of one of its faculty members in a study that purportedly resulted in the creation of the world’s first babies born with edited DNA.

Megan Molteni in a Nov. 27, 2018 article for Wired admits she and her colleagues at the magazine may have dismissed CRISPR concerns about designer babies prematurely while shedding more light on this  latest development (Note: Links have been removed), We said “don’t freak out,” when scientists first used Crispr to edit DNA in non-viable human embryos.

When they tried it in embryos that could theoretically produce babies, we said “don’t panic.” Many years and years of boring bench science remain before anyone could even think about putting it near a woman’s uterus.

On Monday, He and his colleagues at Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, published a set of draft ethical principles “to frame, guide, and restrict clinical applications that communities around the world can share and localize based on religious beliefs, culture, and public-health challenges.” Those principles included transparency and only performing the procedure when the risks are outweighed by serious medical need.

Rodolphe Barrangou, the journal’s editor in chief, where the peer-reviewed perspective appeared, says that the article was one of two that it had published recently addressing the ethical concerns of human germline editing, the other by a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina.

When half-rumors of He’s covert work reached Barrangou over the weekend, his team discussed pulling the paper, but ultimately decided that there was nothing too solid to discredit it, based on the information available at the time.

It’s since become clear that not only is He at the helm of several genetics companies in China, He was actively pursuing controversial human research long before writing up a scientific and moral code to guide it.“We’re currently assessing whether the omission was a matter of ill-management or ill-intent,” says Barrangou, who added that the journal is now conducting an audit to see if a retraction might be warranted.

Any institutional review board that approved it should be disbanded if not jailed.” Reporting by Stat indicates that He may have just gotten in over his head and tried to cram a self-guided ethics education into a few short months.

After He’s appearance at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing today, Nov. 27, 2018, David Cyranoski produced this article for Nature, He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claims to have helped produce the first people born with edited genomes — twin girls — appeared today at a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong to explain his experiment.

He gave his talk amid threats of legal action and mounting questions, from the scientific community and beyond, about the ethics of his work and the way in which he released the results.

On the same day, the Chinese Academy of Sciences issued a statement condemning his work, and the Genetics Society of China and the Chinese Society for Stem Cell Research jointly issued a statement saying the experiment “violates internationally accepted ethical principles regulating human experimentation and human rights law”.

The hospital, which itself is under investigation by the Shenzhen health authorities following He’s revelations, wrote: “The Company does not condone the means of the Claimed Project, and has reservations as to the accuracy, reliability and truthfulness of its contents and results.” He has not yet responded to requests for comment on these statements and investigations, nor on why the hospital was listed in the registry and the claim of apparent forged signatures.

The informed consent agreement for He Jiankui’s experiment describes it as an “AIDS vaccine development project” and used highly technical language to describe the procedure that patients would undergo.

It contains a section dedicated to “developing efficient and advanced biotechnologies” and lists key sectors such as “genome-editing technologies” intended to “put China at the bleeding edge of biotechnology innovation and become the leader in the international competition in this sector”.

The small pox vaccine was highly contested in the US but the Canadian government thought it was a good idea so they offered US scientists the option of coming here to vaccinate Canadian babies.

Meanwhile I think some of the real action regarding CRISPR and germline editing is taking place in the field (pun!) of agriculture: My Nov. 27, 2018 posting titled: ‘Designer groundcherries by CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)‘

That second posting features a company which is trying to sell its gene-editing services to farmers who would like cows that  never grow horns and pigs that never reach puberty.

My July 17, 2018 posting about research suggesting that scientists hadn’t done enough research on possible effects of CRISPR editing titled: ‘The CRISPR ((clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-CAS9 gene-editing technique may cause new genetic damage kerfuffle’.

My 2017 three-part series on CRISPR and germline editing: CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 1 of 3): In the beginning CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 2 of 3): ‘designer babies’?

Benjamin Hurlbut, Associate Professor of Life Sciences at Arizona State University (ASU) and Jason Scott Robert, Director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University have written a provocative (and true) Dec. 3, 2018 essay titled, CRISPR babies raise an uncomfortable reality – abiding by scientific standards doesn’t guarantee ethical research, for The Conversation.