WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A Chinese scientist used gene-editing technology to introduce a mutation into the genes of twin babies.
- The mutation is supposed to make them resistant to HIV infections.
- A new study suggests that though a person’s genes could be altered to make resistant to HIV, the cost could be a decreased lifespan and increased susceptibility to other diseases.
Last year, a scientist from China used CRISPR technology in an attempt to make twin babies resistant to HIV infection. The use of the gene-editing technology for this purpose was criticized as unethical as well as potentially harmful. Specifically, it could increase the risk of early death.
The scientist, He Jiankui, wanted to introduce the CCR5-delta mutation into the genes of the twin babies. CCR5 is a protein that sits on some immune cells. HIV makes use of this protein to find its way inside those cells. The mutation He used occurs in around 10% of people of European descent. This mutation alters the CCR5 protein to make it resistant to HIV infections.
Rasmus Nielsen, senior author of a new study and professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkley, says that introducing mutations in CRISPR babies is “very dangerous” as one cannot be sure what the full effect of these mutations would be. With regards to the CCR5-delta 32 mutation, “You are actually on average, worse off having it.”
The new study analyzed around 400,000 people aged 41-78 who were part of the UK Biobank database. Researchers focused on people whose copies of the CCR5 gene were both mutated (People have two copies of every gene). These people were more likely to die before the age of 76.
The paper which was published on June 3 in the Nature Medicine journal concludes that genetic engineering to make humans resistant to HIV would likely increase the susceptibility to “other, and perhaps more common diseases.”
Source: Live Science