China's government ordered a halt Thursday to work by a medical team that claimed to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies, as a group of leading scientists declared that it's still too soon to try to make permanent changes to DNA that can be inherited by future generations.
A scientist who upended a Hong Kong conference with his claim to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies cancelled a fresh talk and was heavily criticised by organisers on Thursday, who labelled him as irresponsible.
However, He maintained his research was valid, saying that he feels proud of what he had done with the girls' genes. "For this case, I feel proud".
"I first must apologize that this result leaked unexpectedly, taking away from the community of the full data being presented immediately in a scientific venue", He said.
But details of the experiment, which has not been independently verified, triggered an immediate backlash, with experts denouncing He's work as an ethical "mess".
The university said it put the researcher on unpaid leave in February and that it would investigate the matter further.
He Jiankui, a professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Shenzhen, said the twins - identified as "Lulu" and "Nana" - had their embryos' DNA changed using a method known as. He says he used the gene-editing tool called CRISPR to delete a gene that makes people vulnerable to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He also said he personally paid for most of the patients' medical expenses, and that his university in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen was unaware of the study.
CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to cut and paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease. However there are concerns about safety and ethics.
Deem said he was in China when the participants agreed to genetic editing, and said they understood the risks, according to The Associated Press. If true, many experts say it is a risky leap in science and ethics.
He explained that eight couples - comprised of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - had signed up voluntarily for the experiment; one couple later dropped out.
Editing the genes of embryos intended for pregnancy is banned in many counties, including the United States. "Only found out about it after it happened and the children were born", Baltimore said. "This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit", Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, UK, said.
Xu also reportedly said an investigation had been ordered.
"The gene-edited babies reported by the media obviously violates China's relevant laws and regulations, it also breaks the ethical and moral bottomline held by the academic community, which is shocking and unacceptable", Mr Xu said. The U.S. Academies released a statement on Tuesday affirming the recommendations made in their 2017 report.