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China’s Gene Editing Rules

  • 03 Jun 2019
  • 5 min read

China has decided to introduce new Gene-editing rules.

  • Rules require researchers to obtain prior approval from the government before undertaking clinical trials.
  • Those found violating the rules will be punished and this includes a lifetime ban on research.
  • The rules would also require all future trials to be approved by administrative authorities as well as ethical committees.

Background

  • Last year, a chinese researcher, He Jiankui, has claimed that he used CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to produce the world’s first gene-edited babies to make babies immune to infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • After the news of gene-edited babies came Chinese national health commission investigated and found that Dr. He had violated the national regulations against using gene-editing for reproductive purposes.
  • China has now decided to come up with stricter norms regarding gene editing.

Gene Editing

  • Gene editing is also called as genetic modification, genetic manipulation or genetic engineering.
  • Genome editing is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism's DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid). These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.
  • Gene Editing is widely practised in agriculture, to increase productivity or resistance to diseases, etc.

What is CRISPR?

  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) is a gene editing technology, which replicates natural defence mechanism in bacteria to fight virus attacks, using a special protein called Cas9.
  • CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information. The specific location of the genetic codes that need to be changed, or edited, is identified on the DNA strand, and then, using the Cas9 protein, which acts like a pair of scissors, that location is cut off from the strand.
  • A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process, supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes that binds itself with the broken DNA strand.
  • CRISPR-Cas9 is a simple, effective, and incredibly precise technology with potential to revolutionise human existence in future.

Issues

  • Dr. He used the CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing technique to disable a gene called CCR5 (C-C chemokine receptor type 5), which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter and infect cells.
  • Though no guidelines have been drawn up so far regarding gene editing.
  • There is a general consensus in the scientific and ethics communities that the CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing technique should not be used clinically in embryos..
  • Importantly, human clinical trials have not been carried out anywhere in the world to test whether disabling the gene completely prevents HIV infection.
  • In the absence of any clinical trial data as well as consensus to use this tool to prevent HIV infection, performing it on babies as a form of medical intervention is unethical.

CCR5

  • C-C chemokine receptor type 5, also known as CCR5 or CD195, is a protein on the surface of white blood cells that is involved in the immune system as it acts as a receptor for chemokines.
  • CCR5, which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter and infect cells. The CCR5 gene protective role against the West Nile virus is well established.
  • The CCR5 gene also helps to protect the lungs, the liver and the brain during certain serious infections and chronic diseases.
  • The gene is known to prompt the immune system to fight the influenza virus in the lungs.
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