Gene-edited Enhancements for Sale in Ukraine?

Biopolitical Times
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University of California Professor Paul Knoepfler has once again done some excellent research and reporting. This time he has revealed that:

Ukraine clinic plans to sell CRISPR enhancements: hair color, skin, & breast size

Knoepfler is primarily a stem-cell researcher with his own lab at UC Davis, but he is also a  prominent and authoritative stem-cell blogger, a scourge of phony stem-cell clinics,  the author of GMO Sapiens and Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, and co-author of How to Build a Dragon or Die Trying. One of his readers alerted him “to an email that has been sent out to genetics researchers by the Ukrainian clinic trying to recruit scientists for this project.” It included the note that:

Our long-term goals include working with humans using edited stem cells. We plan to edit gray hair color, skin quality and breast size.

Here we go again. After the worldwide headlines back in November 2018, and the recent spate of books about heritable human genome editing, He Jiankui’s failed and criminal attempt to modify human embryos is well known. But some may need a reminder of just why Ukraine has been tipped as a possible source for this kind of exploitation.

We have written extensively about goings-on in Ukraine:

The Scandal-Plagued Company behind Stranded Surrogacy Babies is Also Promoting a Controversial IVF Technique (June 2020)

Three-Person IVF: From Genetic Disease to Genetic Design? (March 2019)

The Bitcoin Baby Project (February 2019)

Slippery Slopes and Biological Curve Balls: Updates on 3-person IVF (December 2016)

3-person IVF and Infertility: What Kind of Slippery Slope is This? (October 2016)

Israeli Parents, Indian Surrogates, a Nepali Earthquake, and “Cheap White Eggs” (from Ukraine; February 2016)

Illegal Surrogacy Operation the “Tip of the Iceberg” (March 2012)

Surrogacy and Baby-Selling: Latest Fertility Industry Scandal (August 2011)

The Ukrainian clinic apparently involved in the current episode is the Medeus Medical Center, which (thanks to Google Translate) promotes itself thus:

At Medeus Medical Center, the future of medicine has already arrived – you can find out what to expect from new methods and how it will affect your health.

The human body is a complex mechanism. The principles of its work are similar, and yet each person has individual characteristics.

Genes contain information about your background, genetic diseases and predispositions, health status and risks. This is your genome or genetic passport. And it is available for reading in our center!

It is enough to do DNA research once, since our DNA does not change. And use the information received throughout your life!

Good to know!

In that advertorial, Medeus proceeds to oversell “technologies based using CRISPR or genomic editing,” and to combine that with some fanciful nanotechnology involving something called “DNA origami.” Digging into their website reveals that they boast of using “rotating magnetic field technology” which seems to be a version of “frequency specific microcurrent” which is described by Science-Based Medicine as part of “a bottomless pit of dubious medical treatments.”

As far as we know, Medeus is not a fertility clinic and not offering reproductive/heritable genome editing/enhancements (but would the fertility clinics be far behind, especially given the track record in Ukraine?). While most attention has been on heritable genome editing, the history of stem cell treatment scams shows that fraudulent somatic enhancements will likely be on the way. The WHO advisory committee is taking on the issue of somatic as well as heritable genome editing, and it will be interesting to see how/whether they will address cases like this.