Chinese Scientist Addresses Controversial Gene-Edited Births

Adjust Comment Print

He said the babies, known as "Lulu" and "Nana" although they are not their real names, were born through regular IVF but using an egg which was specially modified before being inserted into the womb.

Even one of the inventors of CRISPR, Feng Zhang, told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology it was not worth the risk to start editing embryos' genes right now.

But in a statement posted Tuesday morning, China's National Health Commission said that it had "immediately requested the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission to seriously investigate and verify" the claims made by He Jiankui. The hospital confirmed that two of the doctors named in He's documents work at the hospital and suggested that an internal investigation was underway.

However, the Shenzhen commission said the hospital's ethics committee was not valid because the hospital did not register the committee's establishment with the commission as required.

He's University, Southern University of Science and Technology, said in a statement that the researcher has been on leave since February 1.

The Nobel laureate David Baltimore, an organiser of the summit, who is professor emeritus of biology at the California Institute of Technology, called He's work irresponsible. The parents of the allegedly gene-edited babies declined to be interviewed or identified. Over 120 Chinese scientists from leading research universities such as Peking University and Tsinghua University in China, Stanford in the United States, and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research signed a joint statement condemning He's research."The project completely ignored the principles of biomedical ethics, conducting experiments on humans without proving it's safe", said Qiu Zilong, a neuroscience researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (中国科学) who penned the statement posted on social media platform, Weibo."We can only describe such behavior as insane".

"Fundamentally, I don't think genome editing is ready to be applied in embryos for implantation purposes". But his announcement sparked heated controversy over concerns over medical ethics and effectiveness.

Despite the blowback, the beleaguered scientist continued to insist that he is "proud" of the experiment, which he funded himself.

However, there were some who defended He's meddling with the human genome.

More news: Ireland deserved to win
More news: I'm a Celebrity contestants bond over prayer
More news: Trump to discuss Khashoggi murder with Secretary of State Pompeo, CIA

The university where He worked issued a statement that officials were "deeply shocked" by the experiment, which it stressed was conducted elsewhere.

"If true, this experiment is monstrous", he said.

In recent years scientists have discovered a relatively easy way to edit genes, the strands of DNA that govern the body. One day, a guardian reveals to the students that they're clones, created for organ donations. In the years since that moratorium began, scientists have generally been warming to the idea that it might be worth editing embryos in order to delete a serious disease gene, say.

Yalda Jamshidi, senior lecturer in human genetics at St George's, University of London, pointed out that such controversial research is not necessary for preventing HIV. The risk of transmission of HIV for these couples would have been negligible, and there are well-established ways to prevent HIV transmission to the offspring of HIV-positive couples.

"The Pandora's Box has been opened, but we may still have a chance to close it before it is irreparable", the statement read.

"So, when we make changes in the genes, we don't know what else downstream is being changed". Before these reports, there had been confidence among those in the field that the world was moving as one - cautiously inching forward with CRISPR gene editing technology.

China's state-run People's Daily published an online article about it on Monday but later removed the story.

"(Chinese people) have a high willingness to use of gene in disease prevention and treatment", Liang Chen, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University is quoted as saying.

In videos posted to YouTube this week, He claimed he successfully edited the genetic code of twin girls while they were embryos.

Comments