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New Editing Plan

The Russian researcher who announced that he hoped to edit the genomes of embryos and implant them by the end of the year tells New Scientist that he has recruited five deaf couples that wish to undergo the procedure so they can have biological children who can hear.

Denis Rebrikov from the Kulakov National Medical Research Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Perinatology told Nature News last month that he planned to implant gene-edited embryos into women this year and that he planned to target the same gene, CCR5, that He Jiankui did. He announced last November to widespread condemnation that he had edited the CCR5 genes of two twin girls as embryos to prevent them from being able to become infected with HIV. Researchers in the field, though, criticized the work, not only because it appeared that it might not have led to the desired change, but also because there are other means of preventing HIV infections.

In a statement last November, the Organizing Committee of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, where He made his announcement — which it called "deeply disturbing" — said that gene editing could be justifiable in the future, if the risks are minimized and if there is a compelling medical need. But New Scientist notes that Rebrikov's current idea to edit the GJB2 gene in embryos from deaf couples might not reach that standard either, as deafness is not a life-threatening disorder.

"The first human trials should start with embryos or infants with nothing to lose, with fatal conditions," University of Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu tells it.