Human Cloning with Chinese Characteristics

Manila Bulletin, April 13, 2016 | Go to article overview

Human Cloning with Chinese Characteristics


China's top geneticists say the country should set its own standards and regulations on human genome research, state-run media reported Wednesday, as ethical debate erupted over a Chinese study on modified human embryos.

Researchers from Guangzhou Medical University said they used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to artificially induce a mutation in human cells and make them resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Their paper, which appeared last week in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, is only the world's second published account of gene editing in human embryos.

Critics said the study -- intended as a proof-of-principle exercise -- was unnecessary and lacked medical justification, and strongly cautioned against the broader ethical implications of the slippery slope of human genome modification.

"This paper doesn't look like it offers much more than anecdotal evidence that (CRISPR) works in human embryos, which we already knew," George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Children's Hospital Boston, told the prominent science journal Nature.

It demonstrated that "the science is going forward before there's been the general consensus after deliberation that such an approach is medically warranted", he added.

Tetsuya Ishii, a bioethicist at Japan's Hokkaido University, denounced the research as "just playing with human embryos", Nature said.

In a statement to China's state-run Global Times newspaper, the paper's lead author Fan Yong brushed aside such concerns.

"Regardless of criticism, which is not authoritative... we have to stick to the path, obtain independent intellectual property rights and a say" in international academia, he wrote.

"It is the pioneers that will make the rules in this field," he added.

Han Bin, the director of China's National Center for Gene Research, told the paper -- which often takes a nationalistic tone -- that the technology's potential therapeutic benefits for all diseases caused by inherited variation, including cancer, should outweigh any qualms.

Instead of following other countries' ethical stances, China should formulate its own standards and regulations, the Global Times cited him as saying. …

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