China confirms gene-edited babies, blames scientist He Jiankui

He Jiankui

China confirms gene-edited babies, blames scientist He Jiankui

Chinese authorities appear to have confirmed a scientist's unpublished claim that he helped make the world's first gene-edited babies and that a second pregnancy is underway.

The scientific community was shocked past year after a researcher from Shenzhen He Jiankui announced in an interview with the AP news agency that he had successfully altered the genes of twin girls born in November, in order to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Investigators said a preliminary inquiry found that He Jiankui had "dodged supervision, raised funds and organised researchers on his own to carry out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction".

The clinical trial resulted in two pregnancies, one of which led to a full term pregnancy of twin girls and another in which the baby is yet to be born.

Speaking at the genome summit in Hong Kong in November, He said he was "proud" of altering the genes of the babies, given the stigma affecting those living with the virus in the country.

The Chinese scientist - also an associate professor of biology at Southern University of Science and Technology - claimed in November that he had produced the world's first gene-edited babies who were immune to HIV, prompting a wave of criticism and ethical concern from the global scientific community.

Another woman is still carrying a gene-edited fetus.

Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.

According to investigators from China's Guangdong Province, He's research began in June 2016 when he organized a team of researchers, including some from overseas.

"The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community that gene editing, like all potentially new medical interventions, will only be allowed where they address a true medical need, and with appropriate ethical and regulatory oversight", the statement added.

Experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could harm not only to an individual but also to future generations who inherit these same changes.

Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on January 21.

"This behavior seriously violates ethics and scientific research integrity, and seriously violates relevant state regulations, causing adverse effects at home and overseas", the report stated.

Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the goal of reproduction, and says altered embryos can not be developed for more than 14 days. This included faking an ethical review certificate to recruit eight volunteer couples.

The statement shows that "scientific leadership is taking this situation seriously", said Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin bioethicist and one of the leaders of the Hong Kong conference.

Different aspects of He's work have caused concern.

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