17 results for “Reprodutopia”

Join us for the closing event of Reprodutopia

NextNature.net
November 18th 2019

Should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

An exhibition as a research site

For the past two months, Next Nature Network has proudly presented the Reprodutopia exhibition at @DROOG in Amsterdam. On the one hand, the project was disguised as a clinic for future reproductive technologies, while on the other hand, it served as …

Should men be able to give birth to children?

NextNature.net
October 30th 2019

Within a few years, it may be possible for premature babies to grow inside an artificial womb. And when that day arrives, should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

A new narrative

For a long time the birds and the bees served us well to explain where our children come from. Yet radical developments …

Watch: BBC reports on world’s first artificial womb for humans

NextNature.net
October 21st 2019

Now that the team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb, this breakthrough raises ethical questions about the future of baby making on a global scale.

Therefore the BBC caught up with NNN designer Lisa Mandemaker, as part of their BBC 100 Women of 2019, on what it means to …

Artificial Womb receives €2.9m funding to develop prototype

Freya Hutchings
October 8th 2019

Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would …

First human CRISPR trial in the US aims to cure inherited blindness

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
July 30th 2019

Gene editing is advancing at a faster pace than most of us can keep up with. One significant recent announcement was gene editing tool CRISPR’s application to non-genetic diseases thanks to a new ability to edit single letters in RNA.

Even as CRISPR reaches milestones like this, scientists continue to find new uses for it to treat genetic conditions. The next one that will hit clinics is a CRISPR treatment for a form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).…

Artificial womb: Are we ready?

NextNature.net
April 5th 2019

“Within a few years it will be possible for a premature baby to continue to mature in an artificial womb,” says gynecologist Guid Oei. It is therefore that the Artificial Womb: Dream or Nightmare? symposium is held on 29 March at the TU/e Center for Humans & Technology—in collaboration with Next Nature Network. Not the question whether it’s possible, but whether we want this or not. Moreover, an ethicist, a journalist and a designer are also invited to share their …

Artificial womb: Dream or nightmare?

NextNature.net
March 22nd 2019

The emerging technology of the artificial womb confronts us with a series of moral and societal questions. How to cope with that? Join us on 29 March at Eindhoven University of Technology and discuss with us the promises and perils of growing babies outside the womb.

An artificial what? Well, the scientific accurate term for the enabling technology behind the artificial womb is Ectogenesis (from the Greek ecto, outer, and genesis, birth). Accordingly, it refers to "the growth of an …

Welcome to the CRISPR baby world—here’s what you should know

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
December 8th 2018

Last week, the gene editing world was hit by news the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. In a video on YouTube, Dr. Jiankui He at Southern University of Science and Technology in China revealed that the first CRISPR babies—a pair of twin girls named Nana and Lulu—had been born. Engineered to resist HIV infections, the girls were born perfectly normal and healthy, He said.…

How AI and genomics will impact the future of making babies

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
November 22nd 2018

As if stand-alone technologies weren’t advancing fast enough, we’re in age where we must study the intersection points of these technologies. How is what’s happening in robotics influenced by what’s happening in 3D printing? What could be made possible by applying the latest advances in quantum computing to nanotechnology.…

What an artificial womb may look like in the future

Hendrik-Jan Grievink
November 1st 2018

Consider this: in the future, artificial wombs could replace incubators as they mimic the natural environment of the female uterus. But what will these devices look like? And how should we respond to such technology if or when it comes knocking at our cultural doors? Now, we are delighted to present our speculative design proposal for an artificial womb in close collaboration with Máxima Medical Centre. Because if not us, then who? …

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Should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

An exhibition as a research site

For the past two months, Next Nature Network has proudly presented the Reprodutopia exhibition at @DROOG in Amsterdam. On the one hand, the project was disguised as a clinic for future reproductive technologies, while on the other hand, it served as a research site for the Athena Institute— an educational platform from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) that aims to scientifically study and design interfaces between science and society.

But all good things must come to an end, so we decided to go out with a bang. On the last day of the exhibition, we will publicly share our findings and discuss how reproductive technologies may shape the future of humanity. And you are invited.

Because what might changing modes of reproduction mean for our freedom of choice and social (in)equalities, as well the relationships we form with our bodies and unborn children? 

Join the debate!

For this closing we will be joined by philosophers Olya Kudina, Nanon Labrie, Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi, Anna Smajdor, Martijntje Smits and Marcel Zuijderland. Next Nature's Joyce Nabuurs will be moderating the debate, and the dynamic format of the event will provide you with multiple opportunities to get involved in the discussion.

At Next Nature Network, we believe it's time for this much-needed discussion and therefore we need you, because if we are to rewrite the human story, let’s make sure it becomes a story that benefits all.

Plan your visit

If you are unable to make it to the closing event, you can visit Reprodutopia daily from 9am—7pm until 30 November 2019, free of charge.

What? A talk-show style debate on the future of reproductive technologies
Where? @DROOG, Amsterdam
When? Saturday 30 November, from 3pm-5pm

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Within a few years, it may be possible for premature babies to grow inside an artificial womb. And when that day arrives, should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

A new narrative

For a long time the birds and the bees served us well to explain where our children come from. Yet radical developments in reproductive technology force us to rewrite this story.

Artificial wombs, gene editing techniques and reprogramming adult cells into eggs or sperm cells are revolutionary ways for human beings to reproduce, and appear to be closer than any of us can imagine.

It’s time for a much-needed discussion about the way technology radically alters our attitude towards reproduction, gender, relationships and love in the 21st century. If we are to rewrite the human story, let’s make sure it becomes a story that benefits all.

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Now that the team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb, this breakthrough raises ethical questions about the future of baby making on a global scale.

Therefore the BBC caught up with NNN designer Lisa Mandemaker, as part of their BBC 100 Women of 2019, on what it means to design an artificial womb.

The interview was recored during the buildup of Reprodutopia, our latest exhibition that presents thought-provoking visions of reproductive technologies.

What? The Reprodutopia Clinic expo
When? From 9 October  — 30 November 2019
Where? Droog Amsterdam

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Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would be protected by a substance close to amniotic fluid.

Guid Oei, a professor at the university and a practicing gynaecologist, says that the conditions of current incubators are too harsh for premature babies born without fully developed lungs or intestines. As a result, attempts to deliver oxygen and nutrients directly to the organs often result in lasting damage and survival rates are low for babies less than 22 weeks old.

“Within five years it will be possible for a premature baby to continue to mature in an artificial womb”
Guid Oei, gynecologist

Indeed, the model is revolutionary in that “when we put the [babies] lungs back under water then they can develop, they can mature [...] the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb,” Oei explains. The researchers hope that the artificial womb will be ready for use in clinics within five years.

The technology needed to create the artificial womb has been tested on lambs using so-called bio bags. Lambs born at the equivalent of 23 weeks of human pregnancy continued to develop within the biobags and, after being removed, grew up normally.

The power of design

It's interesting to see how a visualization — that was initially created to spark conversation about scientific developments in reproductive technology — is now at the forefront of media reporting of the research grant.

The design was conceptualized and visualised by Next Nature designer-in-chief Hendrik-Jan Grievink, in close collaboration with the team of Guid Oei, for Dutch Design Week 2018.

The unique collaboration between Máxima Medical Centre and Next Nature Network is part of an ongoing research into the impact of technology on the future of biological reproduction, intimacy and relationships: Welcome to Reprodutopia.

Want to see it for yourself? You can! The prototype is currently on display at the Reprodutopia expo in Amsterdam. During your visit, challenge and ask yourself: How will we live, love and reproduce in next nature?

What? The Reprodutopia Clinic expo
When? From 9 October  — 30 November 2019
Where? Droog Amsterdam

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Gene editing is advancing at a faster pace than most of us can keep up with. One significant recent announcement was gene editing tool CRISPR’s application to non-genetic diseases thanks to a new ability to edit single letters in RNA.

Even as CRISPR reaches milestones like this, scientists continue to find new uses for it to treat genetic conditions. The next one that will hit clinics is a CRISPR treatment for a form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).

Having been approved by the FDA in December, the treatment will be the first of its kind to be trialed in the US.

What LCA Is

LCA is a group of inherited disorders that cause severe vision loss at birth. Both parents must have a defective gene for the condition in order for a child to inherit it; 2 to 3 out of every 100,000 babies are born with LCA.

The condition can be caused by mutations in at least 14 different genes that play a role in the development of the retina (the layer of nerve cells at the back of the eye that senses light and sends signals to the brain), affecting both peripheral rod cells—which help with vision in low light—and central cone cells, which are crucial for seeing details and colors.

The pupils of people with LCA don’t react normally to light, failing to expand or contract in response to the amount of light entering the eye. For example, in one version of the disease, a mutation in the gene responsible for metabolizing vitamin A reduces the ability of photoreceptors (specialized nerve cells in the retina) to send visual information to the brain, and causes early death of photoreceptor cells.

How CRISPR Would Fix It

In CRISPR gene editing, scientists attach a synthesized sequence of guide RNA matching the target DNA sequence to the enzyme Cas-9 and introduce it into a cell’s nucleus. When the matching DNA sequence is located, Cas-9 cuts the DNA strand, and the cell then repairs the cut.

The mutations most commonly responsible for LCA occur in the CEP290, CRB1, GUCY2D, and RPE65 genes. In LCA type 10, a mutation in CEP290 causes dysfunction of a protein that helps build photoreceptor cells in the retina.

After having some of the gel-like tissue in their eyes removed, patients will have the treatment injected behind their retinas. The hope is that the patients’ DNA will repair itself in a way that restores normal protein function, ultimately fixing their photoreceptor cells and letting them see.

The treatment will be administered by Cambridge-based Editas Medicine and its Dublin-based pharmaceutical partner Allergan.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Though this is the first study to use CRISPR to edit DNA inside the human body, it’s not the first time CRISPR-based medicine has been tested in humans, nor the first time some form of gene therapy has been used to treat LCA.

CRISPR was used to treat patients for the first time in the US earlier this year, when doctors at the University of Pennsylvania combined it with the cancer therapy CAR-T to treat two patients (the results of the treatment haven’t been released yet).

In late 2017 the FDA approved a gene therapy called Luxturna to treat LCA2, a form of the disease caused by a mutation in a different gene than that involved in type 10. It was the first directly-administered gene therapy for an inherited disease to be approved in the US. Only one other company, Sangamo Therapeutics, has tried gene editing inside the body, to treat metabolic diseases using a tool called zinc fingers.

The difference between the LCA2 treatment and the treatment that will be given to LCA10 patients is that Luxturna inserts a healthy copy of the defective gene directly into retinal cells, whereas CRISPR locates the defective gene on the DNA strand, cuts it at just the right point, and allows it to repair itself.

Though there’s no guarantee the CRISPR treatment for LCA will work, it holds a lot of promise; Luxturna successfully improved sight in its recipients with no known side effects, and a similar trial in the Netherlands produced vision improvements in about 60 percent of participants.

Treatment is slated to start this fall in 18 children and adults, and will last up to 3 years.

This article is republished from SingularityHub under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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“Within a few years it will be possible for a premature baby to continue to mature in an artificial womb,” says gynecologist Guid Oei. It is therefore that the Artificial Womb: Dream or Nightmare? symposium is held on 29 March at the TU/e Center for Humans & Technology—in collaboration with Next Nature Network. Not the question whether it’s possible, but whether we want this or not. Moreover, an ethicist, a journalist and a designer are also invited to share their vision on the artificial womb.

The design

Five large red balloons are hanging from the ceiling in the theatre room. They were designed by Hendrik-Jan Grievink (designer at NNN), in close collaboration with the team of gynecologist Guid Oei from Máxima Medical Centre.

It is not intended for these works of art to cherish the extremely premature babies. Yet, it may seem plausible, as the object is holding connections for the umbilical cord, a supply of simulated amniotic fluid and the electronics that can display the heartbeat and movements of the mother.

But for the time being these bulbs serve as an eye-catcher. “Let the discussion begin,” say Oei and Grievink.

IVF

Journalist Larissa Pans wholeheartedly agrees with them. She wrote the book Unlimited Fertility and speaks about the unforeseen consequences of IVF treatments that have turned the world upside down since the 1970s.

“I consider the current international fertility industry as a spin-off from the discovery of IVF,” she states.

Moderator Koert van Mensvoort and author Larissa Pans

In 1978, the first IVF baby was born in Bristol: Louise Brown. For her book, Pans spoke with gynecologists Bert Alberda and Gerard Zeilmaker, who at the time also tried to allow fertilization outside the body in the Dijkzicht hospital in Rotterdam (NL).

Two years after the birth of Louise Brown, they were allowed to return embryos to the women whose egg cells were fertilized. The first Dutch IVF baby was born in 1983. Now there are eight million IVF babies worldwide.

Tupperware

“Besides a fertility industry, I even see fertility tourism,” says Pans. “Egg-freezing parties are being held in America. There is trade in eggs and sperm, each country has its own rules. Dutch women fly to Cyprus or Spain for an anonymous egg. Is motherhood a right that you can claim?”

The journalist continues to speak about her eye-opening moment. “I understood the feminist view—that it’s a good thing for women to gain power over their fertility. But I once spoke to a woman who was born as a triplet from an anonymous donor. She is angry and feels like a ‘B-child’, because she discovered that she comes from a sperm cocktail from different men. So this means that there are also losers: the children with identity questions.”

Gynecologist Guid Oei

Guid Oei is a gynecologist at Máxima Medical Center and saves premature babies. He talks about the problems that prematurely born babies face (the air damages their vesicles) and social concerns (from the huge medical costs to having only fifty percent chance of survival).

It is his dream to be able to use artificial wombs, “not in the lab, but in maternity suites.” Oei expects that it can be that far within a few years. “A lamb has already been born in Japan that grew for weeks in a—transparent—artificial womb.”

Questions, questions, questions

“A lamb in a bag doesn't look like a nightmare, does it,” argues moderator Koert van Mensvoort.

The audience has more questions: Is a child born twice with this technique? And if so, what is the birthday? How does the baby bond with the mother? What does it do with the mother psychologically? Are there any physical consequences? What about milk production? What is the relation to adoption? Oei has no answers yet. “Follow-up is needed,” he says, “but this is a better solution than an incubator.”

Visitor Sylvie Kars takes notes of the questions. She is an educator at Freya, an association for parents with fertility problems. “I find it very interesting to see the possibility of an artificial womb. I was expecting science fiction scenes, but only here do I realize that it can currently be a solution for premature births. That makes it less bizarre. And we have to talk about the possibilities of technology. You can't ignore that.”

Abortion

When Lily Frank from the Philosophy and ethics group (TU / e Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences) enters the stage, the questions become even more complex. She wonders whether ectogenesis (growing babies outside the womb) will end the abortion discussion.

Other questions follow from her and from the public. Is a fetus entitled to life? Is ending the life of the fetus in the artificial womb the same as abortion? Who decides? The mother, the father, the doctor? Is a fetus the property of parents and do they have the right to destroy it? Does a woman have the right not to become a biological mother?

Ethicist Lily Frank in conversation with Dutch news broadcaster Nieuwsuur

What started with the future dream of having artificial wombs ends this afternoon with thoughts about contracts for mothers who would rather give up their child in such a womb.

The message is clear, says Van Mensvoort: “Don't be naive about negative side effects. Discuss! And do that beforehand, and not afterwards, as with IVF."

This story is a report from the Artificial Womb: Dream or Nightmare? symposium that took place on March 29th at TU/e. We thank our talented speakers and the wonderfully engaging audience for their contribution. Missed out? Dutch news broadcaster Nieuwsuur was present and filmed a segment of the event. Watch it here (in Dutch).

? Written by Norbine Schalij
? Phototography by Bart van Overbeeke

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The emerging technology of the artificial womb confronts us with a series of moral and societal questions. How to cope with that? Join us on 29 March at Eindhoven University of Technology and discuss with us the promises and perils of growing babies outside the womb.

An artificial what? Well, the scientific accurate term for the enabling technology behind the artificial womb is Ectogenesis (from the Greek ecto, outer, and genesis, birth). Accordingly, it refers to "the growth of an organism in an artificial environment outside the body in which it would normally be found.
"Unnatural you say? Biological reproduction is a highly technologized area for years already; consider how birth control has become widely accepted and available, and already over 6 million humans have been put onto this earth through In Vitro Fertilization.
Are we ready for this? The artificial womb—or at least the ability to create one—is inching its way toward us. The big question is whether or not society is ready for it. Thus we need a debate on the impact of emerging reproductive technologies. Join us!

Speakers include Hendrik-Jan Grievink (designer Next Nature Network), Guid Oei (gynecologist MMC), Lily Frank (ethicist TU/e), and Larisa Pans (author of the book “Onbeperkt vruchtbaar” - Limitless fertility). Moderated by Koert van Mensvoort (creative director Next Nature Network and Fellow TU/e).

Date: 29 March
Time: 12:30 - 16:30
Location: Blauwe Zaal, Auditorium, TU/e campus

Free admission, RSVP via this link.

This event is organized by the TU/e Center for Humans & Technology, in co-production with Next Nature Network

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Last week, the gene editing world was hit by news the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. In a video on YouTube, Dr. Jiankui He at Southern University of Science and Technology in China revealed that the first CRISPR babies—a pair of twin girls named Nana and Lulu—had been born. Engineered to resist HIV infections, the girls were born perfectly normal and healthy, He said.

On the surface, the news seemed like a technological breakthrough. The girls’ father had HIV, and by cutting out an immune-related gene, CCR5, He said in his impassioned video that the girls would never be susceptible to the danger and stigma of an HIV infection.

The parents begged me to help them conceive healthy children, He said. They were carefully informed of the dangers and risks, and now, with two baby girls in his arms, the father feels he has a reason to live again.

A brand-new, transformative technology was used for good. So why are scientists around the world outraged?

The Tumultuous Timeline

Because the story above, one in which the therapeutic power of CRISPR was finally realized, is a fantasy.

Naïve” at best and “evil” and “fame-driven” at worst, He, as the founder of two gene sequencing biotech companies, flouted international guidelines and ethics and performed what amounts to human experimentation on children (and their future children) who cannot give consent.

The story unfolded over the course of a week. On Sunday, MIT Tech Review broke the news that a rogue scientist in China engineered CRISPR babies that had been born. The news—although truly shocking to scientists and regulators—was met by some skepticism in that He’s claims may be false. After all, game-changing (and ethically challenged) experiments have been faked before.

Monday, He’s video explaining the experiment was widely spread across the media, as were original consent documents (in Chinese) and trial registration information. Keen-eyed scientists soon pointed out that the trials weren’t registered until early November, long after the experiments were in motion.

The video was met with widespread condemnation from scientists and regulators alike, describing the experiment as “monstrous,” “unconscionable,” and “a grave abuse of human rights.” His university denounced the work—He was working rogue and under a three-year unpaid leave while performing the experiments—calling it a “serious violation of academic ethics and standards.”

A CRISPR inventor, Dr. Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, called for a moratorium on the implantation of edited embryos. In China, over 120 scientists signed a joint letter (in Chinese) saying that “the experiments can only be described as ‘crazy’ as it’s directly on human beings,” with no less than six exclamation points.

Wednesday, He presented his results at a summit in Hong Kong originally organized to discuss theoretical editing of human embryos and its limits. He presented his data and dodged a bombardment of questions regarding his ethics, defending his work by saying that “for this specific case, I feel proud, actually.”

He then released his presentation slides and partial sequencing data for international scrutiny.

The news got worse: both twins may have ended up as mosaics, in which only some cells were edited. If the twin’s immune system grew from unedited cells, they would still be susceptible to HIV infection.

There’s more: CRISPR edited non-targeted sections of CCR5, introducing brand new mutations—or novel gene variants—into the gene pool. While He claimed that the edits were specific and harmless, they’re likely not.

He then dropped another bombshell: at least one other pregnancy with a CRISPR-edited embryo was on its way.

Later that day, the NIH director issued a powerfully-worded statement: “This work represents a deeply disturbing willingness by Dr. He and his team to flout international ethical norms. The project was largely carried out in secret, the medical necessity for inactivation of CCR5 in these infants is utterly unconvincing, the informed consent process appears highly questionable, and the possibility of damaging off-target effects has not been satisfactorily explored.”

Thursday, China said that it has suspended He’s work, citing that it was unethical and a violation of Chinese law.

Technological Overreach

Part of the global outrage came from how the experiments were performed.

Make no mistake: CRISPR can fundamentally delete disease-causing mutations in embryos, allowing parents to have healthy children. It’s something scientists and ethicists have been carefully working towards—and something most Americans seem to support.

But with great power comes great responsibility: although the technology to fundamentally change DNA in future generations—called “germline editing”—has been available for a few years, scientists have hesitated at growing any edited embryos to maturation.

Why? Because it’s human lives—and the lives of their kids, and more broadly, the genetic vault of the human species—that is at risk. The technology, although promising, is simply not ready. Scientists are still arguing over whether a previous report in embryo editing (that was not implanted) worked as intended, and heatedly debating if CRISPR has a far higher risk of editing non-targeted genes than previously expected.

He’s reported data—already extremely scarce—spurred another media firestorm by showing exactly why responsible scientists have not yet tried the experiment. One of the twins was a mosaic, in that the editing only “worked” to stop one copy of the CCR5 gene. She might very likely not have any protection against HIV. The team also found off-target effects but said they were “harmless”—but without strong supporting evidence.

CCR5 has been linked to mental function before. In mice, deleting both copies resulted in enhanced memory, while other experiments have found that getting rid of the gene increases the chance of contracting life-threatening (and far more common) flu. Did He inadvertently enhance human cognition, which even he said wasn’t his goal and shouldn’t happen? Or did he subject two girls to a lifetime of infections and other yet unknown illnesses?

Fine. So what if the technology isn’t quite ready yet? He reported in the conference that he had validated the technology in mice and monkeys before proceeding to humans, and the parents were willing to take the risk. Why not follow the parents’ wishes?

An Unnecessary Edit

He’s cited goal, to protect the children from their dad’s HIV infection, is invalid.

For IVF, scientists wash out any HIV viruses from the sperm before inseminating an egg. Children born with a HIV-harboring father, who have their disease under control using drugs, are no more likely to contract the disease than those with perfectly healthy parents. It’s HIV-infected moms that transmit the virus down to the kids.

And even if, somehow, the children are infected, we now have extremely powerful preventative measures and treatments for HIV. In other words, He’s experiment was unnecessary.

What’s more, it’s hard to gauge whether the twins’ parents were truly informed on the risks of the procedure. The consent form listed the work as an “AIDS vaccine development project,” and although it does mention gene editing and notes the possibility of off-target effects, it capped off with the “project team is not at risk.”

He’s decision to implant the obviously mosaic embryo into the mother is also questionable. Why go through the risk when it is already obvious that the technology did not work?

I will watch over the children for 18 years, He said at the conference. But how? Will he be financially responsible? What if one develops cancer from the treatment, a known danger? And what about the twins’ children, who may also have the edited gene?

Finally, He’s preferred method of disseminating the news—via YouTube—was highly unorthodox. His work has not been peer-reviewed. Scientists don’t have access to the girls to validate his claims, and the little data already presented is cause for concern.

Although one could argue that releasing the news into the public—rather than behind paywalls in academic journals—is more responsible, the fact is He has been incredibly dodgy in his experimental techniques and analyses. His claim that the twins did not harbor significant mutations is already under question, because the techniques he used simply cannot provide a complete answer (want to check out his data for yourself? Here are his presentation slides in English).

Wielded correctly, CRISPR has the power to eliminate inherited diseases in generations for good. But He’s experiments may trigger a global reaction to ban CRISPR embryo editing, potentially depriving those who need it most. Even worse, one unapologetic rogue may encourage others, who dangle the potential of blue-eyed or other “desired” babies in front of wealthy, expectant parents, without mentioning that we are still far from being able to truly “enhance” complex traits such as intelligence. There’s historic precedent: just look at the unregulated stem cell clinics that have spread like wildfire.

Without doubt, He has tarnished the reputation of Chinese scientists, who are already viewed as ethically lax. So perhaps it’s no wonder that China has now stopped all of He’s planned clinical trials, which involve editing the embryos of eight couples with an HIV-infected father.

It’s now up to scientists, ethicists, and regulators to clean up the mess and refocus on the road ahead. The Pandora’s Box has been opened, and “lunatics” may try to edit genes that lead to longevity or intelligence, said one Chinese scientist on WeChat, but we can still—and need to—close it.

This story is republished from SingularityHub under a Creative Commons license.

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As if stand-alone technologies weren’t advancing fast enough, we’re in age where we must study the intersection points of these technologies. How is what’s happening in robotics influenced by what’s happening in 3D printing? What could be made possible by applying the latest advances in quantum computing to nanotechnology.

Along these lines, one crucial tech intersection is that of artificial intelligence and genomics. Each field is seeing constant progress, but Jamie Metzl believes it’s their convergence that will really push us into uncharted territory, beyond even what we’ve imagined in science fiction. “There's going to be this push and pull, this competition between the reality of our biology with its built-in limitations and the scope of our aspirations,” he said.

Metzl is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the upcoming book Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. At Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine conference last week, he shared his insights on genomics and AI, and where their convergence could take us.

Life As We Know It

Metzl explained how genomics as a field evolved slowly—and then quickly. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick identified the double helix structure of DNA, and realized that the order of the base pairs held a treasure trove of genetic information. There was such a thing as a book of life, and we’d found it.

In 2003, when the Human Genome Project was completed (after 13 years and $2.7 billion), we learned the order of the genome's 3 billion base pairs, and the location of specific genes on our chromosomes. Not only did a book of life exist, we figured out how to read it.

Fifteen years after that, it’s 2018 and precision gene editing in plants, animals, and humans is changing everything, and quickly pushing us into an entirely new frontier. Forget reading the book of life—we’re now learning how to write it.

Forget reading the book of life—we’re now learning how to write it.

“Readable, writable, and hackable, what's clear is that human beings are recognizing that we are another form of information technology, and just like our IT has entered this exponential curve of discovery, we will have that with ourselves,” Metzl said. “And it’s intersecting with the AI revolution.”

Learning About Life Meets Machine Learning

In 2016, DeepMind’s AlphaGo program outsmarted the world's top Go player. In 2017 AlphaGo Zero was created: unlike AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero wasn’t trained using previous human games of Go, but was simply given the rules of Go—and in four days it defeated the AlphaGo program.

Our own biology is, of course, vastly more complex than the game of Go, and that, Metzl said, is our starting point. “The system of our own biology that we are trying to understand is massively, but very importantly not infinitely, complex,” he added.

Getting a standardized set of rules for our biology—and, eventually, maybe even outsmarting our biology—will require genomic data. Lots of it.

Multiple countries already starting to produce this data. The UK’s National Health Service recently announced a plan to sequence the genomes of five million Britons over the next five years. In the US the All of Us Research Program will sequence a million Americans. China is the most aggressive in sequencing its population, with a goal of sequencing half of all newborns by 2020.

“We're going to get these massive pools of sequenced genomic data,” Metzl said. “The real gold will come from comparing people's sequenced genomes to their electronic health records, and ultimately their life records.” Getting people comfortable with allowing open access to their data will be another matter; Metzl mentioned that Luna DNA and others have strategies to help people get comfortable with giving consent to their private information. But this is where China’s lack of privacy protection could end up being a significant advantage.

To compare genotypes and phenotypes at scale—first millions, then hundreds of millions, then eventually billions, Metzl said—we're going to need AI and big data analytic tools, and algorithms far beyond what we have now. These tools will let us move from precision medicine to predictive medicine, knowing precisely when and where different diseases are going to occur and shutting them down before they start.

It's ultimately going to be about who and what we are as humans. It's going to be about identity.

But, Metzl said, “As we unlock the genetics of ourselves, it's not going to be about just healthcare. It's ultimately going to be about who and what we are as humans. It's going to be about identity.”

Designer Babies, and Their Babies

In Metzl’s mind, the most serious application of our genomic knowledge will be in embryo selection.

Currently, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures can extract around 15 eggs, fertilize them, then do pre-implantation genetic testing; right now what's knowable is single-gene mutation diseases and simple traits like hair color and eye color. As we get to the millions and then billions of people with sequences, we’ll have information about how these genetics work, and we're going to be able to make much more informed choices,” Metzl said.

Imagine going to a fertility clinic in 2023. You give a skin graft or a blood sample, and using in-vitro gametogenesis (IVG)—infertility be damned—your skin or blood cells are induced to become eggs or sperm, which are then combined to create embryos. The dozens or hundreds of embryos created from artificial gametes each have a few cells extracted from them, and these cells are sequenced. The sequences will tell you the likelihood of specific traits and disease states were that embryo to be implanted and taken to full term. “With really anything that has a genetic foundation, we'll be able to predict with increasing levels of accuracy how that potential child will be realized as a human being,” Metzl said.

This, he added, could lead to some wild and frightening possibilities: if you have 1,000 eggs and you pick one based on its optimal genetic sequence, you could then mate your embryo with somebody else who has done the same thing in a different genetic line. “Your five-day-old embryo and their five-day-old embryo could have a child using the same IVG process,” Metzl said. “Then that child could have a child with another five-day-old embryo from another genetic line, and you could go on and on down the line.”

Sounds insane, right? But wait, there’s more: as Jason Pontin reported earlier this year in Wired, “Gene-editing technologies such as Crispr-Cas9 would make it relatively easy to repair, add, or remove genes during the IVG process, eliminating diseases or conferring advantages that would ripple through a child’s genome. This all may sound like science fiction, but to those following the research, the combination of IVG and gene editing appears highly likely, if not inevitable.”

 From Crazy to Commonplace?

It’s a slippery slope from gene editing and embryo-mating to a dystopian race to build the most perfect humans possible. If somebody's investing so much time and energy in selecting their embryo, Metzl asked, how will they think about the mating choices of their children? IVG could quickly leave the realm of healthcare and enter that of evolution.

“We all need to be part of an inclusive, integrated, global dialogue on the future of our species,” Metzl said. “Healthcare professionals are essential nodes in this.” Not least among this dialogue should be the question of access to tech like IVG; are there steps we can take to keep it from becoming a tool for a wealthy minority, and thereby perpetuating inequality and further polarizing societies?

As Pontin points out, at its inception 40 years ago IVF also sparked fear, confusion, and resistance—and now it’s as normal and common as could be, with millions of healthy babies conceived using the technology.

The disruption that genomics, AI, and IVG will bring to reproduction could follow a similar story cycle—if we’re smart about it. As Metzl put it, “This must be regulated, because it is life.”

Image Credit: hywards / geneticliteracyproject.org

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

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Consider this: in the future, artificial wombs could replace incubators as they mimic the natural environment of the female uterus. But what will these devices look like? And how should we respond to such technology if or when it comes knocking at our cultural doors? Now, we are delighted to present our speculative design proposal for an artificial womb in close collaboration with Máxima Medical Centre. Because if not us, then who?

To give you some background, Máxima Medical Centre is taking steps into the development of the first artificial womb, in order to increase the chances of survival of extremely premature babies in the period of 24-28 weeks.

At this moment, these chances are low: 61% dies with 24 weeks and 43% with 25 weeks. The babies that survive, often suffer from chronical damage such as brain damage, chronical breathing problems, retina problems and possibility of blindness.

“Every week we can prolong the growth of a 24-week old foetus in a artificial womb, we increase the chances of survival with 18%”, says Guid Oei, gynecologist of MMC. “If we can extend this to 28 weeks we the biggest danger of premature death is probably gone”.

Hendrik-Jan Grievink, designer NNN and Dr. Oei, gynecologist MMC.

The unique collaboration between Máxima Medical Centre and Next Nature Network is part of an ongoing research into the impact of technology on the future of biological reproduction, intimacy and relationships under the working title REPRODUTOPIA.

Because how will we make babies, experience intimacy and build families in the future?

Next Nature Network reframes this question in terms of design: is it possible and preferable that this area is something that can be designed? And if so, what strategies can we follow?

The research will lead into a series of publications, exhibitions and events over the course of the coming years.

Design for debate: the artificial womb prototype as presented at the Dutch Design Week

The artificial womb installation was presented at the Chronic Health exhibition during the Dutch Design Week (October 20-28 Eindhoven, The Netherlands) and will travel afterwards.

If you are interested in booking the installation for your event, please contact us.

Photography: Bram Saeys

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Should men be able to give birth to children? Should we externalize pregnancy with artificial wombs? And are these feminist dreams or frankenstein nightmares? Welcome to Reprodutopia, a debate on our reproductive futures.

An exhibition as a research site

For the past two months, Next Nature Network has proudly presented the Reprodutopia exhibition at @DROOG in Amsterdam. On the one hand, the project was disguised as a clinic for future reproductive technologies, while on the other hand, it served as a research site for the Athena Institute— an educational platform from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) that aims to scientifically study and design interfaces between science and society.

But all good things must come to an end, so we decided to go out with a bang. On the last day of the exhibition, we will publicly share our findings and discuss how reproductive technologies may shape the future of humanity. And you are invited.

Because what might changing modes of reproduction mean for our freedom of choice and social (in)equalities, as well the relationships we form with our bodies and unborn children? 

Join the debate!

For this closing we will be joined by philosophers Olya Kudina, Nanon Labrie, Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi, Anna Smajdor, Martijntje Smits and Marcel Zuijderland. Next Nature's Joyce Nabuurs will be moderating the debate, and the dynamic format of the event will provide you with multiple opportunities to get involved in the discussion.

At Next Nature Network, we believe it's time for this much-needed discussion and therefore we need you, because if we are to rewrite the human story, let’s make sure it becomes a story that benefits all.

Plan your visit

If you are unable to make it to the closing event, you can visit Reprodutopia daily from 9am—7pm until 30 November 2019, free of charge.

What? A talk-show style debate on the future of reproductive technologies
Where? @DROOG, Amsterdam
When? Saturday 30 November, from 3pm-5pm

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