What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


There are two separate issues here, the benefits of the intervention and the risks.

You are addressing the benefits. It’s true that we don’t know the benefits yet, but that’s minor. It’s hard to test embryos, they are relatively fragile. As the girls grow up, they will doubtlessly undergo lots more testing to determine whether or not the intervention was effective, i.e. whether they actually acquired some degree of resistance to HIV. Even if not every cell is edited, they may have some partial resistance. And even if there is no benefit, that’s often the outcome of clinical trials. Participants in clinical trials are often reminded that they may not personally benefit from the trial. It is the future patients that will benefit.

The greater concern is the risks of the intervention. This is what has other scientists up in arms. It’s acceptable if patients are not better off after a clinical trial, but it’s unacceptable if they are worse off. Unlike most clinical trials, here the risks are very hard to adequately assess until it’s too late. And the risks may well affect the descendants of the two girls.

The kids were born late October or early November. That’s not hard to arrange at all, just wait until January to start the project.


I mean we’ve all seen the gif where the girl uses a grinder and sends the sparks between her legs. Right?



Actually, yes. I was thinking about that when I wrote what I did.


That’s what I meant. He skipped all kinds of scientific/ethical protocols to make sure the embryos were embedded in Jan/Feb just so his “experiments” could be ready for this convention.


My guess is the next Human Genome Project will be to simulate “running” the genetic code, rather than simply decoding it.

At some point we’re going to have a virtual living thing in a supercomputer. Maybe not “conscious” or whatever, but every molecule in every cell simulated and being run in real time simultaneously. Once we can “run” the code, we can learn how to edit “in real time” rather than at conception/seed.


I don’t see anything to suggest he rushed the project.

If he skipped an internal review, it was because he knew the project would be blocked, not because he needed more time.

Nor do I think he “skipped” any preimplantation experiments in order to start in January. If his data are limited, it’s because there is a limited number of embryonic cells you can sacrifice without risking viability of the embryo itself. More time wouldn’t have mattered. If you look at the session transcript, you’ll see that nobody complained about missing data.

Finally, delivering the children before the convention doesn’t even matter that much. His talk was about performing an embryonic intervention, not showing off baby pictures. He could have given pretty much the same talk, and ignited just as much controversy, if the babies were due next January.


I think the lack of longer term animal studies suggests he rushed the project, but we might just disagree on that one :)


It suggests an unethical study, not an unscientific or otherwise botched study.

In other words, if as a society we made the moral decision to ignore human rights, then from a scientific perspective this study wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.


Agreed. I’m not very good at splitting my narratives as I was not trying to say it was unscientific. Botched? Failure is a part of science and is just as important as success. However, if this was all about science, then the need for human participation here was zero. He could have used monkeys and SIV to prove the method would work in humans too. For humans there is a path to get here, he just didn’t want take it because of red tape and time. And this is the time I keep referring to.


In warehouse automation news…

(Warning: autoplay)

Personally, I’d rather just stay away from the bears in the first place and not need the bear repellent spray at all.


The robot was just demonstrating an abundance of caution. Bears are nature’s godless killing machines.

(credit: Stephen Colbert)


So now hundreds of people are going to receive packages soaked with bear spray?


“Alexa, kill the humans.”


Bear repellent sends 24 people to the hospital but only bearly (pun!) annoys actual bears.


In other news, no bears were seen anywhere near the fulfillment center.
Manufacturer declares victory.


Later, at eleven, Florida resident has a stone that repels polar bears. Says, “You all owe me!”


Ah yes. The Bear Stone Bear.


Gonna hammer on Dr. He a bit more because he conveniently forgot to mention all the potential negative effects the kids might suffer due to his treatment:


Although the CCR5-Δ32 mutation disables the gene and makes carriers resistant to the dominant strain of HIV, over the past two decades dozens of studies have shown that CCR5 also helps to protect the lungs, liver and brain during some other serious infections and chronic diseases.

Influenza could also pose a greater risk to the twins . Work in mice has shown that the CCR5 protein helps to recruit key immune cells to fight the virus in the lungs3. Without the gene, this defence system fails. A study in Spain found that that people with the CCR5-Δ32 deletion are four times more likely than average to die from influenza4. And China is a hotspot for influenza outbreaks.

Did he communicate those risks to the parents? Of course not. Chances are he either didn’t care or didn’t know because he didn’t bother to research that part of gene. This is why we have protocols and rules. So the girl may not contract HIV, but could die much more easily from the flu or other diseases. Take all things in perspective and she is probably worse off with the manipulations that took place, not better.


Uh, not necessarily. Maybe she is worse off, and maybe better off. The only way to answer the question is through research.

Just to put things in perspective, if we had a good way to block CCR5 with a drug, then that drug would probably be in clinical trials right now despite all the risks you just listed. The problem isn’t blocking CCR5 per se, it’s the fact that gene editing is irreversible.


Sure more study is needed to verify and quantity. But I didn’t see anything wrong with the Spanish study outside of not having a sample size in the thousands.

The adult HIV prevalence in China is .037%. In 3 years more people die of the flu there than all the people who have HIV. I’m not sure I can concede that the risk of HIV in a somewhat repressed culture such as China is the same level threat as creating someone who now can’t handle the flu and other respiratory virus’s in a population center that is known for the transmission of flu worldwide and the epicenter of the SARS outbreak (Guangdong region, Hong Kong).

So at this point in time, all things being equal I still feel based on the evidence we have she is worse off now than if she hadn’t been edited. If she lived in Western, Central or Southern Africa I would say the opposite because her risk of HIV infection/death would outweigh her risk from respiratory mortality.

That’s just my take :)