Forget He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist who created designer babies! When you think of gene editing, you should instead think of the African American Victoria Gray. CRISPR has relieved her of a lot of suffering from her sickle cell anemia. And it’s just the beginning of a promising therapy story.
In 2018, He Jiankui, then a biophysicist at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology Shenzhen, announced in Hong Kong that he had used CRISPR on human embryos. The news caused a great uproar. “We will never forget the shock,” says Victor Dzau, president of the US National Academy of Medicine. He Jiankui had manipulated the genome to protect three girls from HIV infection from their fathers. The researcher was convicted and ended up in prison. He was only released last year.
From an ethical point of view, Jiankui’s actions were undoubtedly a failure, and probably from a medical point of view as well – but little is known about this because the privacy of Amy and the twins Lulu and Nana is well protected. In any case, his approach raises the question of whether we should interfere in evolution in this way at all. But the debate about designer babies shouldn’t detract from what could be possible with gene editing, namely to heal serious illnesses in adult humans.
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