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expert encounter with Professor Lovell Badge on Chinese CRISPR Babies Story

One of the biggest science stories of 2018 was the news that a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, claimed to have delivered 2 babies whose genome was edited to protect them against developing HIV. This news sent shock waves throughout the scientific community across the world with almost all scientists expressing dismay that He had used the technique in a clinical trial before the research community have completed the research to show that human genome editing is safe and way before the public have had the opportunity to fully debate the ethical and scientific implications of going down this road. 

The news broke on the eve of a major global meeting on genome editing taking place in Hong Kong organised by our friend Professor Robin Lovell Badge from the Crick Institute. Robin was at the private dinner the night before the meeting where he and fellow scientists quizzed He about the news story broken by AP and he chaired the session the following day where He addressed the meeting about his work.  This has given Robin a unique insight into He as a scientist and a man and he agreed to come into the SMC to answer our questions about:

  • Where does this leave the whole field of human genome editing…is it a major setback or will it have the effect of speeding up discussions on appropriate regulation etc?
  • What can Robin tell us about He’s science? How much did we glean about the methods he used? What are the possible risks of using this technique before it has been proved to be safe?
  • What happens next? Where does Robin and fellow scientists stand on whether a journal should publish He’s work or not?
  • What can Robin tell us about what was driving He? Is he an evil man driven by ambition and reckless with the human beings he was dealing with or is he a maverick with echoes of scientists like Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe?

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