Russian scientist plans to one-up Jiankui He in creating his own CRISPR babies — Nature
If Denis Rebrikov has his way, the world could be expecting more CRISPR babies soon.
The Russian scientist has told Nature he is considering following Jiankui He’s example in knocking out the CCR5 gene in embryos and implanting them into women — except doing it in a better way. It marks the first declaration of interest in continuing the work when researchers around the world are calling for suspension of human germline editing and stricter standards, following a global backlash against He’s claims that he facilitated the birth of twin girls who had been CRISPR-ed as embryos.
Rebrikov, who heads a genome-editing laboratory at Russia’s largest fertility clinic, plans to implant the gene edited embryos into HIV-positive mothers, Nature reported, supposedly rendering the experiment more ethically justifiable. Many scientists, including gene editing pioneers David Liu and Feng Zhang, had questioned the medical necessity of conferring HIV immunity to babies whose father has HIV but whose mother doesn’t.
And while CCR5-∆32 — the mutation that He was trying to create in the embryos — appears to block one gateway for HIV to enter cells, a recent paper found it’s also associated with higher risk of premature death. That’s in addition to previous findings that people with that mutation are more susceptible to the West Nile virus and more likely to suffer serious complications from influenza.
Rebrikov emphasizes that he’s limiting the gene editing to a subset of HIV-positive mothers who do not respond to standard treatment, increasing the risk of transmitting the infection to the child.
“This is a clinical situation which calls for this type of therapy,” he told Nature.
His peers may not agree.
When consulted by Nature, Jennifer Doudna widely credited for pioneering the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 system in humans — said “the data I have seen say it’s not that easy to control the way the DNA repair works.”
“The technology is not ready,” she said. “It is not surprising, but it is very disappointing and unsettling.”
Like the rest of the world, Russia is hashing out its rules on clinical use of editing the genes of embryos — a process that Rebrikov expects to be complete in nine months. He plans to seek approval from three government agencies and expects to hear back as soon as one month or as late as two years.