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Scientist claiming gene-edited babies reports 2nd pregnancy

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HONG KONG (AP) — A Chinese researcher who claims to have helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies says a second pregnancy may be underway.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, revealed the possible pregnancy Wednesday while making his first public comments about his controversial work at an international conference in Hong Kong.

He claims to have altered the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month to try to make them resistant to infection with the AIDS virus. Mainstream scientists have condemned the experiment, and universities and government groups are investigating.

The second potential pregnancy is in a very early stage and needs more time to be monitored to see if it will last, He said.

Leading scientists said there are now even more reasons to worry, and more questions than answers, after He’s talk. The leader of the conference called the experiment “irresponsible” and evidence that the scientific community had failed to regulate itself to prevent premature efforts to alter DNA.

Altering DNA before or at the time of conception is highly controversial because the changes can be inherited and might harm other genes. It’s banned in some countries including the United States except for lab research.

He defended his choice of HIV, rather than a fatal inherited disease, as a test case for gene editing, and insisted the girls could benefit from it.

“They need this protection since a vaccine is not available,” He said.

Scientists weren’t buying it.

“This is a truly unacceptable development,” said Jennifer Doudna, a University of California-Berkeley scientist and one of the inventors of the CRISPR gene-editing tool that He said he used. “I’m grateful that he appeared today, but I don’t think that we heard answers. We still need to understand the motivation for this.”

Doudna is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports AP’s Health & Science Department.

“I feel more disturbed now,” said David Liu of Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute, and inventor of a variation of the gene-editing tool. “It’s an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society. I hope it never happens again.”

There is no independent confirmation of He’s claim and he has not yet published in any scientific journal where it would be vetted by experts. At the conference, He failed or refused to answer many questions including who paid for his work, how he ensured that participants understood potential risks and benefits, and why he kept his work secret until after it was done.

After He spoke, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate from the California Institute of Technology and a leader of the conference, said He’s work “would still be considered irresponsible” because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered.

“I personally don’t think that it was medically necessary. The choice of the diseases that we heard discussions about earlier today are much more pressing” than trying to prevent HIV infection this way, Baltimore said.

The case shows “there has been a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community” and said the conference committee would meet and issue a statement on Thursday about the future of the field, Baltimore said.

Before He’s talk, Dr. George Daley, Harvard Medical School’s dean and one of the conference organizers, warned against a backlash to gene editing because of He’s experiment. Just because the first case may have been a misstep “should in no way, I think, lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider the very, very positive aspects that could come forth by a more responsible pathway,” Daley said.

“Scientists who go rogue … it carries a deep, deep cost to the scientific community,” Daley said.

Regulators have been swift to condemn the experiment as unethical and unscientific.

The National Health Commission has ordered local officials in Guangdong province to investigate He’s actions, and his employer, Southern University of Science and Technology of China, is investigating as well.

On Tuesday, Qui Renzong of the Chinese Academy of Social Science criticized the decision to let He speak at the conference, saying the claim “should not be on our agenda” until it has been reviewed by independent experts. Whether He violated reproductive medicine laws in China has been unclear; Qui contends that it did, but said, “the problem is, there’s no penalty.”

He called on the United Nations to convene a meeting to discuss heritable gene editing to promote international agreement on when it might be OK.

Meanwhile, more American scientists said they had contact with He and were aware of or suspected what he was doing.

Dr. Matthew Porteus, a genetics researcher at Stanford University, where He did postdoctoral research, said He told him in February that he intended to try human gene editing. Porteus said he discouraged He and told him “that it was irresponsible, that he could risk the entire field of gene editing by doing this in a cavalier fashion.”

Dr. William Hurlbut, a Stanford ethicist, said he has “spent many hours” talking with He over the last two years about situations where gene editing might be appropriate.

“I knew his early work. I knew where he was heading,” Hurlbut said. When he saw He four or five weeks ago, He did not say he had tried or achieved pregnancy with edited embryos but “I strongly suspected” it, Hurlbut said.

“I disagree with the notion of stepping out of the general consensus of the scientific community,” Hurlbut said. If the science is not considered ready or safe enough, “it’s going to create misunderstanding, discordance and distrust.”

___

Marilynn Marchione can be followed.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Economy

J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

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J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

NEW YORK (AP) — Johnson & Johnson is forcefully denying a media report that it knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder.

The report Friday by the Reuters news service sent company shares into a tailspin, suffering their worst sell-off in 16 years.

Reuters is citing documents released as part of a lawsuit by plaintiffs claiming that the product can be linked to ovarian cancer. The New Brunswick, New Jersey company has battled in court against such claims and on Friday called the Reuters report, “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

Shares are down more than 9 percent, the most severe decline since 2002.

In the report, Reuters points out that documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in J&J talc. Further reports by the company and outside labs showed similar findings through the early 2000s.

In its statement Friday, Johnson & Johnson said “thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.”

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Healthcare

Lila Rose tells the plain truth about Planned Parenthood

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Lila Rose tells the plain truth about Planned Parenthood

Abortion provider Planned Parenthood and its supporters often try to confuse the issue of their purpose by classifying themselves as a women’s healthcare provider. That is partially correct, but let’s not be obtuse. Planned Parenthood has always been known as the go-to place for abortions with no questions asked.

The revelation in 2015 that they sell baby body parts for research has kept them in the spotlight, but very little is being done to prevent our tax dollars from going towards the cause of abortion on demand. They play accounting games by showing these dollars didn’t go to that activity, but at the end of the day their budget decisions are based on their total revenues whether they come from tax dollars, donations, or human sales.

Lila Rose, President of pro-life activist group Live Action, had some thoughts on Planned Parenthood. It’s arguably the plainest truth that can be said about the organization in one sentence.

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Science and Tech

As car technology advances, every dealership needs a NERD team like Bob Johnson Chevrolet

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As car technology advances, every dealership needs a NERD team like Bob Johnson Chevrolet

For the second time in the last two weeks, I’ve had to refer to the internet for information about how to use technology on my new Chevrolet Equinox. It’s my first new car in nearly a decade and the advancements are incredible, but there’s something lacking. Nobody showed me how to use the teen driver system and I couldn’t get my phone connected. I understand many people already understand how to use such technologies, but I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m not one of them.

The internet showed me I wasn’t alone, but it brought up the question of why I wasn’t shown this at the dealership the first time? How was I allowed to drive off with my major expenditure without being shown exactly how all these cool features work? So, I turned to the internet to complain but found out not all dealerships are like this.

Apparently, Bob Johnson Chevrolet in Rochester, NY, does exactly what I hoped someone did with me. They actually show all of their new vehicle buyers how their new vehicles work.

“Our mission is to help our customers learn how to use the technology in their vehicles so they get the most from it,” said Dylan Love, NERD station manager.

Their team of five works with customers to give them as much technical information as they need. Some can get in and out quickly because they are already familiar with the technology. Others, like me, would need a lot more assistance and this NERD team would have given it to me if I had bought my vehicle there.

Never assume knowledge

My aforementioned daughter has a knack for technology, but she grew up in a different time. She was immersed in technology before she could ride a bike. My youngest are already so adept at using their various devices that I often turn to them for assistance on my iPad. But automotive technology is different. It may be intuitive for some to connect a device that will play on the vehicle’s speakers, but there are many of us who are “old school” and still want to be shown how to do things by an actual human being.

YouTube videos are fine, but it’s not the same.

Businesses need to understand that there are still millions of Americans who are not tech savvy. It may be hard to believe since we all play around all day on our smart phones and tablets, but that’s pretty much the extent of my modern technological know-how. This is why Bob Johnson Chevrolet’s team makes so much sense to me.

It should make sense to anyone who has ever run into technological roadblocks.

The sad part is that it would be so easy. Perhaps it hearkens to a time past when customer service was as important as low prices. Making certain customers completely understand what they’re buying and how to operate it may be a notion that’s old school like me, but it shouldn’t be. It should be standard operating procedure across the board.

Advancements aren’t going to slow down any time soon. The quest to make things easier leads to knowledge gaps that must be overcome. The NERD team at Bob Johnson Chevrolet is an example that every dealership (and most businesses) should follow.

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