Embattled Russian scientist sharpens plans to create gene-edited babies

Science | AAAS | 10/21/2019 | Staff
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This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

Earlier this month, Denis Rebrikov went to an old mansion in Moscow that now houses the Russian Academy of Sciences’s (RAS’s) Institute of Philosophy to confront his critics and set the record straight. Rebrikov was a well-regarded but little-known geneticist across town at the Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University when a June news article in Nature revealed his controversial plan to alter the DNA in human embryos with CRISPR, the powerful genome editor, and then implant them so they could develop into babies. He has subsequently become the focus of worldwide attention—and widespread condemnation in Russia and elsewhere as a reckless self-promoter.

Opening - Meeting - Bioethicists - Geneticists - Clinicians

At the opening of the meeting, attended by bioethicists, geneticists, and clinicians, Rebrikov lamented that the group wanted to debate the merits of his proposed experiment before he had a chance to describe it in detail. “People are discussing my thoughts and my intentions as if I’m not here,” Rebrikov said. “In Russia, we have a saying, ‘I have not read Pasternak, but I have my opinions about him,’” he added, referring to the author of Doctor Zhivago. “That’s my case.”

The fury that Rebrikov has faced builds on the outrage surrounding He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who startled the world in November 2018 when news broke that he had stealthily used CRISPR to edit human embryos in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV and then implanted them, leading to the birth of twin girls. Not only had He proceeded with flimsy regulatory review, but the girls were not facing any immediate risk that could outweigh the potential harm the editing could cause. As a result, He lost his university job, got booted from a biotech he started, and is subject to ongoing government investigations. He’s experiment also sparked new...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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