Controversial CRISPR baby experiment may have resulted in brain enhancements

Source: Digital Trends

China’s CRISPR baby saga continues to rage on. After the birth of gene-edited twins in China last year, and the reported pregnancy of a second woman, the world’s scientific community voiced their shock at what sounds (provided it’s accurate) like an ethical nightmare. Now scientists have expressed concerns that the procedure may also have resulted in changes in the babies’ brains that could affect cognition and memory.

The genetic modifications were intended to eliminate a gene called CCR5, thought to be responsible for potentially fatal diseases including HIV, smallpox, and cholera. A newly published research paper in the journal Cell suggests that CCR5 manipulation can additionally lead to enhanced recovery after brain injury, including motor recovery following strokes. While this has only been demonstrated (outside of China) in mouse models, the findings could conceivably be applicable in human subjects. It is not clear whether Chinese researcher He Jiankui was trying to modify the intelligence of his subjects with his controversial experimentation.

But why, if the changes are positive, is this such a bad thing? Principally, for the same reasons that the news shocked scientists when it was first announced. Human testing of such unproven treatments is deeply unethical, and carries an extremely high risk. Data submitted as part of the trial (for which the lead scientist has now been sacked from his associated university) indicated that genetic testing has been conducted on fetuses as old as six months.