On Monday, November 26th, the international scientific community was shaken to its core by Hen Jiankui, the biomedical researcher who posted a video on YouTube telling about the existence of the first twin babies whose DNA was modified as embryos before birth.
Their names are Lulu and Nana, and they were allegedly born in China a few weeks ago. According to He Jiankui, the objective of the research was to achieve that two twin baby girls, whose father is HIV positive, could be born resistant to the disease.
The breakthrough was accomplished by using the genetic tool named CRISPR-Cas9, which removed the “door” through which the virus enters into the body and infects the individual.
Immediately after Jiankui’s his online debut, the Chinese authorities launched an investigation. The Shenzhen Harmonicare Women’s and Children’s Hospital–cited by the scientist as the facility where everything developed–published a statement denying its involvement in the pregnancy project and the delivery of the babies.
The hospital also stated that they were conducting their own investigation because the signatures on the ethical review forms seemed to be forged having in mind such meeting never occurred.
Genome modification in human embryos in banned in many countries, including the United States. Nonetheless, it is estimated that China invested more than $250 billion last year in research and development of biotechnology, especially genetic editing.
Furthermore, the Chinese people applaud the efforts. Recent polls suggest that two-thirds of the population support the utilization of biotechnology in embryos as a weapon against diseases such as HIV.
The moment the news broke, He Jiankui became a pariah in the scientific community. In fact, his work has been labeled as monstrous and unethical by the same colleagues who developed the predecessor technology–CRISPR–which is the skeleton of his new biotech.
In other words, it is like the human who invented the wheel getting mad at the guy who invented the car.
If anything, scientific advances show the brilliance of human intelligence and the constant desire for improvement. Now, the question is, who has the power to set the limit?
In my opinion, capital investors who sponsor these efforts do. In the end, regardless of the consequences on humanity and its existence, the markets will drive the moral compass of how this groundbreaking technology will be used.
According to the South China Morning Post, Hen Jiankui is president, member of the board, or legal representative of five Chinese corporations that have received more than $40 million in funds for research in human genome editing from Chinese and international investors.
Economists label health and energy the two industries that control the planet, and investment giants know it well. Therefore, asking them to be ethical at this point, is just like asking for pears from a lemon tree.
With or without ethics, Lulu and Nana are the new product of the biomedical industry. And the genetic editing performed on them as embryos will show the effects on their quality of life sooner than later.
Thank you for reading and sharing,
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