China halts scientist's gene-edited baby research

Postado Dezembro 01, 2018

A Chinese researcher, who claimed to have created the world's first gene-edited babies that are resistant to HIV, has been suspended from any scientific activity amid mounting criticism at home and overseas about the controversial experiment, according to media reports.

Lead researcher He Jiankui yesterday addressed an global conference on gene editing taking place in Hong Kong.

After He spoke, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate from the California Institute of Technology and a leader of the conference, said He's work "would still be considered irresponsible" because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered.

Unlock this article by subscribing to STAT Plus and enjoy your first 30 days free! He said the twin girls, "Lulu" and "Nana", were born healthy after their embryos were genetically modified to make them resistant to HIV infection.

Gene-editing technology had been used to immunise them from HIV, he claimed. He was scheduled to speak again at the conference on Thursday, but he left Hong Kong and through a spokesman sent a statement saying "I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work". Eight volunteer couples - HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - signed up to the trial, with one dropping out before it was put on hold. He has said a second pregnancy may be underway.

Globally speaking, the field is so new and cutting edge that experts simply don't know the full impact and risk involved for a gene edited embryo as it develops into adulthood, and how changed DNA might pass into future generations.

After news of Mr He's work came to light earlier this week, Chinese scientists were quick to denounce it, as was his institution, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. The leader of the conference called the experiment "irresponsible" and evidence that the scientific community had failed to regulate itself to prevent premature efforts to alter DNA.

China's National Health Commission has ordered an investigation into He Jiankui's experiment, which was condemned by the scientific community in China and overseas. Xu said He's work "crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable".

Beijing simultaneously warned that He's gene-editing activities may have broken the law and ordered an investigation. Instead they stress the importance of employing a rigorous ethical framework to any research done on editing human life. He said he initially paid for the research himself, then later from his university funding. "My raw data will be made available for third party review", the AP reported.