Why are Scientists So Upset About The First CRISPR Babies?

A Chinese scientist, Dr. He Jiankui, recently claimed that he has produced the world’s first gene-edited babies, setting off a global firestorm. Although CRISPR-Cas9 technology holds promise to potentially correct dangerous disease-causing mutations and treat some medical conditions, there remain many safety and ethical concerns regarding editing human embryos.

“Not only do I see this as risky, but I am also deeply concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding this trial. All medical advances, gene editing or otherwise and particularly those that impact vulnerable populations, should be cautiously and thoughtfully tested, discussed openly with patients, physicians, scientists, and other community members, and implemented in an equitable way.”

Feng Zhang, Broad Institute – Genome editing tool pioneer for use in eukaryotic cells from natural microbial CRISPR-Cas9 systems | Luminary Awardee and PMWC 2019 SV

Changing a gene in an embryo changes that gene in every cell. If the method succeeds, the baby will have alterations that would then be inherited by all of the baby’s future descendants. Scientists agree that it is a serious undertaking that must be done with great deliberation and only for serious diseases for which there are no treatment options – if it is to be done at all. More worrying, CRISPR can inadvertently alter genes other than the one being targeted or it can be only partially successful – where some cells can contain the edited gene and others do not.

While the potential safety issues and challenges of inappropriate use of the technology are recognized and require action, the potential this technology holds for drug development, gene therapy, precision medicine, and disease treatment is equally without question. A fine example is the attempt to harness CRISPR to edit a patient’s T-cells (immune cells) so they have the capability to target a particular type of tumor.

The life science and healthcare community clearly need a forum for deeper conversations about the implication of these recent developments, and to provide guidance on how our global society can best benefit from gene editing. We at PMWC will contribute by bringing critical stakeholders together at this pivotal time.

Join us January 20-23 as we welcome 400 speakers to PMWC 2019 Silicon Valley as part of 60 sessions focused on diagnostics and therapeutics, immunotherapy, genomic medicine, innovations and technologies, NGS advancements, artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, and of course, the much discussed and debated CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology.


PMWC 2019 SV will have an entire Showcase focused on Emerging Therapeutics, chaired by Dr. Feng Zhang (Broad Institute) 

Selected companies and researchers in the CRISPR, Cell & Gene Therapy fields will focus on advancements in safer cell- and gene-level editing technologies that bring us closer to cures for life-threatening disorders – from cancer to HIV to Huntington’s disease. More than a dozen clinical trials employing CRISPR on human cells are already underway.

Showcase organizations, such as:

  • American Gene Technologies™
  • BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc.
  • Cellecta Inc.
  • Combined Therapeutics Inc.
  • CRISPR Therapeutics
  • GenCirq, Inc.
  • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Rubius Therapeutics
  • Synthego
  • UC Davis
  • University of Texas-Austin