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Scientists fear backlash from gene-edited babies claim could jeopardize research

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Scientists working on the frontiers of medicine fear the uproar over the reported births of gene-edited babies in China could jeopardize promising research into how to alter heredity to fend off a variety of disorders.

Researchers are rapidly learning how to edit DNA to fight such conditions as Huntington’s, Tay-Sachs and hereditary heart disease, conducting legally permissible experiments in lab animals and petri dishes without taking the ultimate step of actually creating babies. Now they worry about a backlash against their work, too.

“The alarmists who claimed that scientists won’t behave responsibly in the development of the next generation of gene editing now have ammunition,” said a dismayed Kyle Orwig, a reproductive specialist at the University of Pittsburgh who hopes to eventually alter sperm production to treat infertility.

He said there is a clear public demand for the kind of research he is doing.

“Families contact me all the time,” he said, including men who can’t produce sperm and aren’t helped by today’s reproductive care.

A Chinese researcher sent a shock wave through the scientific community this week when he claimed to have altered the DNA of embryos in hopes of making them resistant to the AIDS virus. He reported the birth of twin girls and said there may be another pregnancy resulting from his work.

International guidelines for years have said gene editing that can change human heredity — through altered eggs, sperm or embryos — should not be tested in human pregnancies until scientists learn if the practice is safe. One fear is that such experiments could inadvertently damage genes that could then be passed on to future generations.

China has ordered a halt to the seemingly underground experiments by He Jiankui and his team.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong on Nov. 28, where his claim that he had helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies shocked scientists and drew widespread condemnation. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

“This is what we’re afraid of: Not legitimate scientists — it’s crazy people that would just try it without even worrying about consequences,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health & Science University, who is conducting laboratory-only experiments on how to repair gene defects in human embryos.

If the outcry results in more restrictions being added to the current patchwork of rules on what can be studied and how, the field “will be, probably, thrown back for decades,” he added.

The challenge, said Orwig, is to “convince the community that this is one bad apple but it doesn’t reflect what most people are doing.”

There are multiple kinds of gene editing. Experiments to try to fix damaged genes in children and adults with diseases such as sickle cell are fairly straightforward because that drug-like approach would affect only the patient and not his or her offspring.

Far more contentious is gene editing of the germline, or changing genes in such a way that they will be passed through generations. The big ethical question is whether such tinkering should be restricted to genes that can cause otherwise untreatable disorders, or whether medicine should be free to create designer babies with specific traits, such as high IQ.

“I do think the public is probably open to pretty clearly therapeutic uses of this kind of thing, to prevent transmission of disease. But there’s significant discomfort, if not complete opposition, to enhancement uses,” said Josephine Johnston, an expert on biomedical ethics and policy at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute based in Garrison, N.Y.

In a poll last summer, the Pew Research Center found most Americans — about seven in 10 — said changing an unborn baby’s DNA to treat a serious disease the child would otherwise be born with would be appropriate. But support dropped sharply when people were told that it would involve studies with embryos.

And just 19 per cent thought gene editing for such things as enhancing intelligence would be appropriate, Pew found.

How to prove that gene editing is safe enough to legitimately try in human pregnancies is a conundrum, said University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno. “No regulator follows that child over a lifetime, much less their progeny,” he noted.

Another question for ethicists: Even if it were deemed safe, is gene editing of embryos really needed given today’s options? Already, families who can afford pricey in vitro fertilization can pay extra to have the embryos genetically tested — and implant only those free of well-known dangerous mutations.

But such pre-implantation diagnosis isn’t an answer for everyone, Johnston cautioned. IVF doesn’t always produce enough embryos for couples to choose among. And as testing uncovers more and more disorders, people will have to understand “there’s not going to be a perfect embryo,” she said.

In Pittsburgh, Orwig sees sperm as offering possibly a more practical first step toward germline editing. Some male infertility is caused by genetic defects that prevent testicular stem cells from properly producing sperm. His team studies infertile men to find culprit genes.

Among his plans: gene-edit stem cells, and implant the repaired ones in infertile mice to see if they produce sperm that lead to healthy baby mice.

The technique could be adjusted so that the genetic change isn’t necessarily passed on to the next generation, he said.

Young women undergoing certain cancer treatments already can store ovarian tissue in hopes of future pregnancy, and Orwig said one day it should be possible to remove, say, a mutation in that tissue that otherwise could spread a family’s breast cancer-causing BRCA mutation.

Meanwhile, careful animal work with sperm could “lay the foundation for how one would do it in humans,” he said. “When societal views change and policies change, we’ll be ready.”

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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