In this Nov. 28, 2018, photo, He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong. He made his first public comments about his claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies. The uproar over the unproven report of gene-edited births in China has researchers elsewhere worried about a backlash. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Fear that uproar over gene-edited babies could block science

November 30, 2018 - 1:47 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The uproar over the reported births of gene-edited babies in China has scientists on the frontiers of medicine worried about a backlash.

Researchers are rapidly learning how to edit DNA to fight diseases such as Huntington's or Tay-Sachs. They're conducting legally permissible experiments in lab animals and petri dishes without taking the ultimate step of creating babies.

International guidelines say more of that basic research is critical to eventually proving whether gene editing is safe enough to ever test in a human pregnancy. A Chinese researcher ignored those guidelines, claiming twin girls were born this month from embryos he edited.

Researchers say if the outcry results in more research restrictions, it could seriously set back a field that offers hope to families with some currently untreatable conditions.

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