Professor Mello remained an adviser to Dr. He’s biotech company for another eight months. (AP: Stephen Senn)
Long before it became known about the appearance of the world's first babies with genetic editing, the Chinese researcher Heh Jiankui shared the news with the Nobel Prize winner of the USA, who objected to the experiment, but remained an adviser to the biotechnology company Dr. Heh.
- The letters received by the Associated Press show that Professor Craig Mello was told about the experiment in April 2018.
- Chinese researcher Dr. He tried to change the genes of twin girls to help them confront a possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus
- Professor Mello, who received the Nobel Prize in 2006 for research in the field of genetics, expressed concern about the risks to health
The revelation that another eminent scientist knew about work that was widely condemned when it was disclosed comes when scientists argue about whether to warn disturbing research and how to do it, and the need for clearer guidelines.
The letters received by the Associated Press in accordance with the public records request show that Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello from the University of Massachusetts learned about the pregnancy last April from Dr. He in a report titled “Success!”
“I'm happy for you, but I would prefer not to keep it up to date,” said Professor Mello.
“You are risking the health of the child you are editing … I just do not understand why you are doing this. I wish your patient good luck for a healthy pregnancy. ”
Professor Mello remained a research consultant at Dr He & # 39; s Direct Genomics for another eight months to December, leaving him right after the news of the birth became public and caused international contempt.
The work of editing the genes of a Chinese scientist was not an experiment of the company.
Dr. He tried to change the genes of twin girls to help them confront a possible future infection with the AIDS virus, HIV.
Some American researchers knew or strongly suspected that Dr. He was considering trying to edit the embryo gene, but revealing it to Professor Mello in April is remarkable because it indicates that the pregnancy was reached and happened on the day that Dr. He himself said, I found out about it.
There is no definite way to stop experimenting with an outcast scientist.
Editing of embryos intended for pregnancy is not allowed in the United States and many other places because of the risk of harming other genes and the fear that these DNA changes may be passed on to future generations.
But there is no definite way to prevent an experimenting scammer, no matter what the rules are, because the technology for editing genes is cheap and easy to use.
It is unclear how someone would express concern about Dr. Heh’s project, said bioethics from the University of Wisconsin Alta Charo, who was one of the leaders of the Genetic Editing Conference in Hong Kong, where Dr. Heh told the details of the experiment.
The Chinese government has launched a full investigation into Dr. He and his research. (AP: Kin Chung)
The work of the doctor was not published in a scientific journal.
Bioethics from the University of Minnesota, Lee Turner, said that the inaction of scientists who had learned about Dr. He's intentions indicates a wider culture of silence.
“It seems there have been a few missed opportunities,” said Mr. Turner.
Last week, China’s state media reported that Dr. He could face the consequences after investigators determined that he had acted alone, and fabricated a review of the ethics of others.
The Xinhua report states that the twins and people involved in the second, ongoing pregnancy with genes-edited embryos will remain under medical supervision with regular visits monitored by state health departments. Attempts to contact a doctor He did not succeed.
Dr. He kept Professor Mello, others in the dark
Professor Mello rejected interview requests. In statements made through his university, Professor Mello said that he had no idea that the doctor was “personally interested” in editing human genes or had the means to implement it, and that their discussions were “hypothetical and broad”.
Professor Mello reiterated his disagreement with Dr. He's project and said that he left the Direct Genomics Scientific Advisory Board because he felt that the company headed by Dr. He could no longer be effective.
Professor Mello said that he started work in the council in October 2017, and said that he did not accept compensation for the role.
A representative from his university said that teachers can work on scientific advisory boards.
Professor Mello is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports the Department of Health and Science AP. Professor Mello did not work with Direct Genomics as a HHMI spokesperson, according to the university and an email from HHMI's lawyer, Dr. Heh.
According to a statement made by the University of Massachusetts, Dr. He addressed Professor Mello during a recess at a company meeting in November 2017 to talk about the possibility of using the powerful CRISPR gene editing tool to prevent HIV infection from parent to child.
Professor Mello received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2006 for his genetic research. (AP: Jonas Extromer)
The statement said that Professor Mello said that he had no idea that he was going to try it himself.
After the meeting, emails show that Professor Mello tied Dr. He with a colleague, an expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Catherine Lusuriaga, for advice on "pediatric risks of HIV transmission for the therapy he is considering."
Dr. Luzuriaga replied that she was looking forward to the conversation.
She did not respond to interview requests.
The University of Massachusetts published a statement saying that Dr. Luzuriaga and Dr. He had a short phone call and that she did not know what advice she could give Dr. He for working with the embryos edited by the genes.
In April, the doctor sent an email to Professor Mello: “Good news … pregnancy confirmed!” Dr. He asked Professor Mello to keep the news confidential.
Professor Mello, who received the Nobel Prize in 2006 for research in the field of genetics, expressed concern about the risks to health.
“I think you take a big risk and I don’t want anyone to think that I approve of what you are doing,” he wrote. "Sorry, I can no longer support these efforts, I know what you mean well."
In an e-mail, Professor Mello attended another meeting on direct genomics in China in November, about a week before the conference in Hong Kong, at which Dr. Heh made a public statement.
Professor Mello’s statement says that he left the company's scientific advisory board on December 6th.
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