WHO seeks ‘clear guidelines’ on gene editing after claims of babies with altered DNA

The head of the World Health Organization said gene editing “cannot be done without clear guidelines” after a Chinese researcher claimed to lead a team that altered the DNA of twin babies.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said WHO is putting together a team of experts to consider the impacts of gene editing, reports The Associated Press.

“Gene editing may have unintended consequences, this is uncharted water and it has to be taken seriously,” said Tedros, according to Reuters.

Last week, Chinese researcher He Jiankui told the AP he altered the DNA of twin girls to resist HIV and the AIDS virus.

He, an associate professor at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology in China, faces an investigation by the school. No other journal or independent source has verified his claims, made to an organizer of an international gene editing conference in Hong Kong.

Several studies have suggested gene editing techniques could lead to breakthroughs in how diseases such as cancer are treated. In July, researchers with the University of California San Francisco claimed to develop a method of reprogramming immune cells to seek out and destroy cancer cells.

However, the practice still raises ethical and safety concerns, such as access to the technology and expansion beyond using gene editing to fight or cure disease, said the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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