Published November 27, 2018
The unconfirmed story of genetically modified humans being developed in China is a source of concern for biologists and bioethicists around the world, a UB genetics expert says.
Richard M. Gronostajski, professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, and a researcher at UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, is director of the school’s genetics, genomics and bioinformatics graduate program and director of the Western New York Stem Cell Culture and Analysis Center.
Gronostajski says the clinical trial in China was designed to edit the CCR5 gene to generate humans who would be resistant to the HIV virus.
“The primary concern of scientists and bioethicists is that it is unclear whether the risks involved in such studies outweigh the potential benefit of the results for the patients involved,” he says.
“As a basic researcher in genetics and genetic diseases, I personally have strong reservations regarding this work. The major concern is that the technique used is known to sometimes generate mutations in genes other than the one that was targeted, producing unknown new mutations in the patient. In addition, while there are naturally occurring mutations in this gene that confer resistance to HIV, it is unclear whether this edited gene would also confer resistance.”
He cites media reports in the Associated Press and MIT Technology Review that state the clinical trial resulted in multiple edited embryos, one of which was edited in both copies of the CCR5 gene and one of which had only one copy of the gene edited.
“No further information was disclosed about the type or degree of gene editing or possible so-called off-site editing effects, in which another, unintended gene might also have been edited,” Gronostajski says.
Further information on the project is likely to be released at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, taking place Nov. 27-29 in Hong Kong.
“The scientific community and all of the global community awaits more information on this recent event,” Gronostajski says.