The Associated Press reported that He Jiankui said one couple in the trial gave birth to twin girls this month.
The claims have not been verified through independent genome testing, nor published in a peer-reviewed journal. But, if true, the twins’ birth would represent a significant — and controversial — leap in the use of genome editing. Until now, the use of these tools in embryos has been limited to research, often to investigate the benefit of using the technology to eliminate disease-causing mutations from the human germ line. But some studies have reported off-target effects, raising significant safety concerns.
The birth of the first genetically tailored humans would be a stunning medical achievement, for both He and China.
There are roughly 10,000 monogenic or single-gene diseases. Only 5% are treatable today. Being able to treat all of those diseases is worth about $70 billion per year.
We will see single gene applications of CRISPR in near future, but identifying causal variants for complex traits / disease risks (necessary prerequisite for more advanced applications) will take significant effort and many years (my guess, perhaps a decade)… https://t.co/DdzPCkqeW0
— steve hsu (@hsu_steve) November 26, 2018
Genetic Testing Currently Adds $10,000 to IVF Treatment Cost
Globally about 2 million cycles of IVF are performed each year. IVF is growing at ~7% per year. IVF is growing at 20-30% in China. China will be the major driver of IVF demand growth. This will increase global IVF growth towards 20-30% per year.
The US average IVF cost is over $20,000 for each try and testing can add $10,000 or more. This requires an unpleasant two-week process of ovarian stimulation and egg harvesting. In some Asian countries like Thailand or in Mexico the cost of IVF is far lower.
The new CRISPR gene editing would add additional costs but wealthy couples would see the value in guaranteeing that their child was immune to as many diseases as possible. By genetically engineering the embryos it would mean the immunity would be passed down to future generations.
China had 17-18 million births per year and about 100K-200K were IVF births in 2017. By 2025, China should have about 1 million IVF births per year.
Denmark leads the world in IVF rates. 10% of all Denmark births are via IVF. Denmark has socialized medicine and a desperate need for a higher birthrate.
If China matches Denmark’s levels of IVF by 2030, then China would have about 2 million IVF births per year. China had more than 40 million patients with fertility problems in 2016.
This new development will become widespread. Making children immune to diseases could ramp up the use of IVF to higher percentages.
* IVF was already trending to 5-20% of all births in Asia and parts of Europe
* IVF was already used with genetic screening
* CRISPR is being used for medical treatments in many clinical trials
* Most of China will be at the Portugal and Spain level of per capita income around 2030
* People in China and Asia have a more open attitude to genetic enhancement than people in western countries
There are major differences in national behaviors in regards to medical procedures around births.
Different Views on Gene Editing for Enhancement
Caesarean section rates are far higher in China, parts of Asia and parts of Europe. China has 46% Caesarean section rates. Some parts of China have 80% caesarean section rates.
The US mostly has a culture of natural births. The US has 32% caesarean section rates.
A phone survey by Harvard found only 11% of Americans said gene editing to enhance the intelligence of babies should be legal. 26% of Americans said gene editing to reduce the risk of disease in babies should be legal.
Recent surveys suggest that the public supports genome editing in embryos if it fixes disease-causing mutations. In December 2017, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a London-based independent advisory committee, published a survey of 319 people. Nearly 70% of those supported gene editing if it allowed infertile couples to have children, or if it allowed a couple to alter a disease-causing mutation in an embryo. A larger survey of 4,196 Chinese citizens, released last month, reported a similar level of support for modifying genes if the goal is to avoid a disease. But respondents were opposed to using it to enhance IQ or athletic ability, or to change skin color.
Future of Tiger Moms and Intelligence Enhancement
Nextbigfuture predicted in 2014 that there would be massive IVF popularity. The One Child Policy was lifted. The more older women have or try to have babies then the more IVF there will be. If there is IVF then it is easy to add in genetic modification. Nextbigfuture also predicted that Tiger Moms would drive the use of genetic engineering for intelligence enhancement.
Intelligence is 40-80% inheritable. There are thousands of genes that genetically determine intelligence. According to Steve Hsu’s estimates (based on actual data) most humans have (order of magnitude) 1000 rare (-) alleles for intelligence and height
One standard deviation above average has (very roughly) 30 fewer (-) variants. No negative alleles might be 30 Standard deviations (SD) above average. Such a person has yet to exist in human history… Each standard deviation (SD) up or down are defined as 15 IQ points greater or less. 95 percent of the population scores an IQ between 70 and 130, which is within two standard deviations of the mean. 30 SD above average would be and IQ of 550. This is still about 20 years away. We are still ten years away from identifying all of the intelligence related genes. 9 Standard Deviations over average would be a 235 IQ. This is the equivalent in intelligence of a 8 foot 1 inch person in height.
Geniuses and Society
5% of population with 30 points higher intelligence might be about $14000 more GDP per capita
5% of population with 120 points higher intelligence might be about $56000 more GDP per capita
What would a society with tens of millions of Edisons, Einsteins, Steve Jobs and Elon Musks be like ?
Could we get beyond them in capability?
20% of population significantly intelligence enhanced would be possible as IVF takes off, embryo selection and genetic engineering with it over the next 10-20 years.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.