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Stanford University has cleared three of its staff who had suspected links with the Chinese geneticist He Jiankui. Last year, He claimed to have edited the genomes of human embryos. Stanford launched an investigation into its faculty members after it was suggested the researchers may have contributed to He’s project.
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Matthew Porteus, biophysicist Stephen Quake, and neuroscientist and ethicist William Hurlbut have all been cleared of any links to He who is suspected of currently being under house arrest in China. He claims to have ‘turned off’ a gene called CCR5 which is associated with HIV entering cells.
Strong links to Stanford
He says his aim was to mimic a gene mutation that occurs in approximately 10% of Europeans that protects them from HIV. He’s links to Stanford began in 2011 when he was working at the esteemed university as a postdoctoral scholar.
It is thought he maintained contact with faculty members after his time possibly implicating them in his rogue project. According to a press release from Stanford, an investigation undertaken by a Stanford faculty member and an outside investigator has now been completed, and all three faculty members are cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Based on all of the available information, the reviewers found that the Stanford researchers were not participants in Dr. He’s research regarding genome editing of human embryos for intended implantation and birth and that they had no research, financial or organizational ties to this research. The review found that the Stanford researchers expressed serious concerns to Dr. He about his work.
When Dr. He did not heed their recommendations and proceeded, Stanford researchers urged him to follow proper scientific practices, which included identifying an unmet medical need, securing informed consent, obtaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and publishing the research in a peer-reviewed journal. Finally, the reviewers found that Stanford researchers were told by Dr. He that he had secured IRB approvals for his work,” reads the statement.
Not everyone agreed with the findings though, Stanford ethicist Hank Greely expressed his dismay via Twitter.
3/ to this research..The review found that the Stanford researchers expressed serious concerns to Dr. He about his work.” I don't think they did anything wrong but I do wish each had done something more but more that science had established a framework to encourage them to do so.— Hank Greely (@HankGreelyLSJU) April 17, 2019
Although CCR5 is associated with HIV, it also helps fight off other infections such as the potentially deadly West Nile virus. The twins born with the edited genes may now be susceptible to this virus.
CCR5 is also linked to brain cognition. New research shows that turning off the CCR5 gene made mice smarter and helped human brains recover after a stroke.
Many scientists are now questioning whether He was trying to affect his patient's brains?
“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles told the MIT review.
“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins.”