Weekly reads: He Jiankui disappoints, ALS, Vor Biopharma

I’m sure many of you remember He Jiankui, the guy who made CRISPR babies. He ended up serving three years in jail in China.

He Jiankui
He Jiankui is back doing genetic research. Photo from He Jiankui.

He seems to be trying for something of a comeback since his release.

Were He Jiankui invitations a mistake?

Some prestigious places have even invited him to give talks, which seemed risky to me. What are the goals? What if He Jiankui isn’t going to cooperate with possible plans for constructively talking about the past or answering tough questions?

Now it seems his invitation to Oxford (virtually) was probably not a great idea. Disgraced CRISPR-baby scientist’s ‘publicity stunt’ frustrates researchers, Nature News. The piece includes these quotes from participants:

“This meeting has been very disappointing, notably the failure of He Jiankui to answer any questions,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who attended the event.

“A publicity stunt like today shows he doesn’t have much credibility at least in the eyes of his peers,” says Eben Kirksey, a medical anthropologist at the University of Oxford, UK.

I guess I’m not sure why they were surprised. The Global Observatory for Genome Editing also earlier invited He to a meeting, but no details have been released on that one.

Even more invitations to He Jiankui have been sent out or are in the works too.

To be clear, I don’t have some hypothetical best answer as to how fields should try to handle the return of someone who committed major misconduct. It’s tricky. In this case if the goal of such invitations is to unpack and learn from the past, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.

More recommended reads

Large-Scale Generation of Muscle-Controlling Nerve Cells From ALS Patients, Neuroscience News. This argues for one’s sex being a major factor in ALS-related altered gene expression.

Here’s the original research article in Neuron: “Large-scale differentiation of iPSC-derived motor neurons from ALS and control subjects.” There’s a lot of interest in stem cell-related therapies for ALS too, but it’s a very complex disease and so far there hasn’t been much consistently encouraging news on this front.

Putting a twist on targeted therapy, Vor Biopharma heralds proof of concept for its gene-edited stem cells, EndPoints. Vor Biopharma focuses on genome editing and hematopoietic stem cells. They are at a critical juncture in early testing of trem-cel. Vor Biopharma stock has been seesawing.

Public views on polygenic screening of embryos, Science. This has some interesting survey data on the public’s attitudes toward both screening and CRISPR’ing of people. For instance, check this out: “A minority of participants (41%) said they had no moral objection to gene editing for “certain medical and nonmedical traits.”

Highly cited genetics studies found to contain sequence errors, Nature News.

What’s the deal with stem cells and knee arthritis? ABC (in Australia). I like how Professor David Hunter was direct in calling out sketchy clinics. If you thought the FDA was being too passive here in the US, it sounds like in Australia the regulatory body TGA isn’t really regulating things almost at all on the stem cell clinic front there.

For the First Time, Genetically Modified Trees Have Been Planted in a U.S. Forest, NYT.

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