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Gene-edited babies: Current techniques not safe, say experts – BBC News

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Current scientific techniques are not yet safe or effective enough to be used to create gene-edited babies, an international committee says.

The technology could one day prevent parents from passing on heritable diseases to children, but the committee says much more research is needed.

The world’s first gene-edited babies were born in China in November 2018. The scientist responsible was jailed, amid a fierce global backlash.

The committee was set up in response.

Most countries have regulations in place preventing babies being born after gene-editing, but the incident led to calls for strong international consensus.

Why is gene-editing babies controversial?

Gene-editing could potentially help avoid a range of heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos.

But experts worry that modifying the genome of an embryo could cause unintended harm, not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit these same changes.

One example of current technology is CRISPR, a biological system for altering DNA discovered in 2012.

CRISPR scans the genome looking for the right location, and then uses “molecular scissors” to snip through the faulty DNA.

While effective in the lab, the process is less than perfect and can cut out too much DNA.

These unwanted edits could alter other important genes – inadvertently triggering cancer, for example.

But arguably, the most controversial aspect of gene-editing concerns the potential to introduce changes to the germline – DNA alterations that would pass down the generations.

What does the report say?

The commission involves experts from 10 different countries, including members of the UK’s Royal Society and the US National Academy of Medicine.

It made several recommendations, including:

  • Extensive conversations in society before a country decides whether to permit this type of gene-editing
  • If proven to be safe and effective, initial uses should be limited to serious, life-shortening diseases which result from the mutation of one or both copies of a single gene, such as cystic fibrosis
  • Rigorous checks at every stage of the process to make sure there are no unintended consequences, including biopsies and regular screening of embryos
  • Pregnancies and any resulting children to be followed up closely
  • An international scientific advisory panel should be established to constantly assess evidence on safety and effectiveness, allowing people to report concerns about any research that deviates from guidelines

Does everyone agree?

Sarah Norcross, at Progress Educational Trust, said while important lessons needed to be learnt from the world’s first genome-edited babies, the report went too far in the other direction.

She said: “The criteria the report sets out, for the first acceptable clinical use of germline genome editing in humans, are far too narrow.

“Furthermore, the report strays beyond its scientific remit. Much of the report – including a third of its recommendations – concerns governance, which is the focus of a separate genome editing project by the World Health Organization.”

Meanwhile, Prof Dame Anne Johnson at the Academy of Medical Sciences welcomed the report’s “cautious” approach.

She said: “This area of science could help a group of patients with no other options, but it is not one to be fast-tracked behind closed doors.

“It must be based on strong clinical data showing safety and efficacy, alongside thoughtful public debate that is clearly informed by the best possible scientific evidence.”

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Number of COVID-19 cases in schools on the rise in Quebec – Global News

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Two Lower Canada College (LCC) teachers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school.

The college located in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough sent a letter to parents with the news Thursday.

“In order to limit the possibility of further transmission in the school and after consulting with Public Health, teachers and staff who were in close contact with these teachers have been asked to be tested for COVID-19 and will remain at home for a period of 14 days following their exposure,” the letter read in part.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Quebec school bus drivers want to be informed of positive cases they’ve transported

According to the school’s headmaster Christopher Shannon, no student was exposed. Shannon says teachers are in full personal protective equipment when they are with students and maintain a two-metre distance at all times.

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Lower Canada College is just one of 489 schools that have reported cases of the virus in Quebec so far, according to numbers released by the province on Friday.

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It brings the total of cases in schools to 1,163 of which 722 are currently active.

Read more:
Quebec reports 377 coronavirus cases at 223 schools

Olivier Drouin, a Montreal-based parent who decided to track COVID-19 cases in schools on a website he created, says he’s alarmed about the increase in cases lately.

Drouin believes it’s time for the government to take more measures in schools.

“I am worried and I would like at least — if the schools are going to stay open — that we introduce maybe mandatory masks in schools, or a little bit more of social distancing, or online learning,” Drouin said. “But [that] doesn’t seem the way the government is going right now.”






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Coronavirus: Parents worried over differing protocols in Quebec schools


Coronavirus: Parents worried over differing protocols in Quebec schools

Health officials insist schools are not a problem.

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READ MORE: Quebec raises coronavirus alert level for Montreal, other regions as situation becomes ‘critical’

“There are a lot of cases because there are a lot of schools and schools are a reflection of what’s going on in the community,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director.

“There’s going to be small outbreaks under control. If they are not in control then we can go to other steps.”

Arruda added that the virus is being brought into schools rather than it being a matter of schools driving the spread.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Toronto's top doctor orders closure of four businesses over concerns about transmission of COVID-19 – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Chris Fox, CP24.com


Published Friday, September 25, 2020 4:43PM EDT


Last Updated Friday, September 25, 2020 6:17PM EDT

Toronto’s top public health official has ordered the closure of four hospitality businesses that she says failed to take the necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa says that the reasons behind the closure orders are specific to each business but generally point to an abdication of responsibility to help control the spread of COVID-19.

As an example, she said that investigators with Toronto Public Health found that one of the businesses served food buffet-style in direct contravention of provincial regulations.

Others, she said, pressured employees to work when they were ill and were “frequently uncooperative” with Toronto Public Health investigators as they attempted to trace cases of COVID-19.

De Villa also said that investigators found a “concerning link” among the businesses with many people who contracted COVID-19 having visited more than one of them. There were also instances in which staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 worked at more than one of the locations.

“These factors combined to create a significant risk to efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 so I am acting under my authority to close down these businesses,” de Villa said during a briefing at city hall on Friday afternoon. “These are not actions I take lightly but I act first in the interest s of public health and in these circumstances the action taken is the right action to protect your health.”

De Villa said that orders requiring the closure of all four businesses are currently being issued, at which point their names and locations will be released to the public.

She said that in order to reopen each business will have to satisfy the specific conditions spelled out in the closure orders.

Speaking with reporters alongside de Villa, Mayor John Tory said that her decision to use her powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to order the closure of the business is the sort of “tactical responses” that the city will have to take when it finds “specific hot spots contributing to the spread of COVID-19” going forward.

“The action that Dr. de Villa is taking today will close some businesses but they must close so the vast majority of businesses can stay open,” he said.

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Chinese company says coronavirus vaccine ready by early 2021 – WellandTribune.ca

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BEIJING – A Chinese pharmaceutical company said Thursday the coronavirus vaccine it is developing should be ready by early 2021 for distribution worldwide, including the United States.

Yin Weidong, the CEO of SinoVac, vowed to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell CoronaVac in the United States if it passes its third and final round of testing in humans. Yin said he personally has been given the experimental vaccine.

“At the very beginning, our strategy was designed for China and for Wuhan. Soon after that in June and July we adjusted our strategy, that is to face the world,” Yin said, referring to the Chinese city were the virus first emerged.

“Our goal is to provide the vaccine to the world including the U.S., EU and others,” Yin said.

Stringent regulations in the U.S., European Union, Japan and Australia have historically blocked the sale of Chinese vaccines. But Yin said that could change.

SinoVac is developing one of China’s top four vaccine candidates along with state-owned SinoPharm, which has two in development, and military-affiliated private firm CanSino.

More than 24,000 people are participating in clinical trials of CoronaVac in Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia, with additional trials scheduled for Bangladesh and possibly Chile, Yin said. SinoVac chose those countries because they all had serious outbreaks, large populations and limited research and development capacity, he said.

He spoke to reporters during a tour of a SinoVac plant south of Beijing. Built in a few months from scratch, the plant is designed to enable SinoVac to produce half a million vaccine doses a year. The bio-secure facility was already busy on Thursday filling tiny bottles with the vaccine and boxing them. The company projects it will be able to produce a few hundred million doses of the vaccine by February or March of next year.

SinoVac is also starting to test small doses of CoronaVac on children and the elderly in China after noticing rising numbers of cases globally among those two groups.

Yin said the company would prioritize distribution of the vaccine to countries hosting human trials of CoronaVac.

While the vaccine has not yet passed the phase 3 clinical trials, a globally accepted standard, SinoVac has already injected thousands of people in China under an emergency use provision.

Yin said he was one of the first to receive the experimental vaccine months ago along with researchers after phase one and two of human trials showed no serious adverse effects. He said that self-injecting showed his support for CoronaVac.

“This is kind of a tradition of our company,” Yin said, adding that he had done the same with a hepatitis vaccine under development.

Earlier this year, China permitted “emergency use” of vaccine candidates for at-risk populations like border personnel and medical workers if companies could show “good safety and good antibodies” from tests of about 1,000 people, Yin said.

SinoVac received that approval in June along with SinoPharm and CanSino, and was able to provide tens of thousands of doses of CoronaVac to Beijing’s municipal government, Yin said.

SinoVac employees qualified for emergency use of the vaccine because an outbreak inside the company would cripple its ability to develop a vaccine, he said. About 90% of the company’s staff have received it.

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“We are confident that our research of the COVI-19 vaccines can meet the standards of the U.S. and EU countries,” Yin said.

___ Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang contributed to this report.

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