Chinese officials and scientists have denounced the claims of a geneticist who would have created the first genetically modified babies.
The authorities ordered an investigation because a hospital linked to the research suggested that its ethical approval had been falsified.
The National Health Commission said Monday that she was "extremely concerned" and ordered provincial health officials "to investigate immediately and clarify the situation".
Pandora's box has been opened. We may still have a glimmer of hope to close it before it's too late
Scientists say in an open letter
The government's medical ethics committee in Shenzhen said it was investigating the case, as was the health commission in Guangdong province, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily, a news media outlet. l & # 39; State.
More than 100 scientists said in an open letter that the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to alter human embryo genes was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China .
CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to cut and glue DNA essentially, which gives hope for genetic solutions to diseases. However, his security and ethics are also of concern.
In online videos, scientist He Jiankui defended what he said he had accomplished: the modification of embryonic genes to protect the baby babies born this month from HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS.
"The Pandora's Box has been opened, we may still have a glimmer of hope to close it before it's too late," said the scientists in a letter whose newspaper published a copy.
"The evaluation of biomedical ethics for this so-called research only exists in name. Conducting direct human experiences can only be described as insane" the letter in Chinese, signed by about 120 scientists, said.
Yang Zhengang, a professor at Fudan University, told Reuters that he had signed the letter because gene editing was "very dangerous."
The Chinese Society of Genetics and the Chinese Society for Stem Cell Research said in a statement that the geneticist had acted as an "individual" and that his work posed "enormous risks to safety". research topics ".
"We believe that He's research is firmly opposed to both the Chinese regulations and the consensus reached by the international scientific community," the two groups said in a statement posted online.
The latter, who is scheduled to speak at a summit on human genome editing at the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday, has not responded to a request for comments from Reuters.
Shenzhen Harmonicare Hospital, which is listed in China's online clinical trial registry, gave ethical approval of the He experiment, but denied having participated in clinical operations involving "genetically modified babies".
& # 39; Very shocked & # 39;
The signatures on the online form were believed to have been falsified and "no relevant meeting of the hospital's medical ethics committee actually took place," said Harmonicare Medical Holdings (Hong Kong) on its website.
The South University of Science and Technology, where he holds an associate professor position, also said that she was not aware of the research project and that it was on leave without pay since February.
The Shenzhen City Science and Innovation Committee, a municipal fund that has also been listed in the clinical trials registry as having supported the trial, said in a statement released on Monday that & ### He had never participated in the project.
Xu Nanping, Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology, told reporters that he was "very shocked" after hearing this statement, adding that the work has been banned since 2003.
The details of the case were still unclear, said Xu.
"We do not know if this work is real or fictitious.If it is real, it is certainly banned in China."
The Xinhua official news agency said that ethics could not be ignored.
"Scientific exploration is endless … but that does not mean that the ethics of science can be abandoned or that ethical standards can be ignored," the news agency said in a published commentary. on social media.
The organizing committee of the Hong Kong conference where it is due to speak – the second international summit on the modification of the human genome – said Monday in a statement that it had only been informed that of its work on the genes of the twins.
"Our goal is to help ensure that research on the editing of the human genome is conducted responsibly," the committee said.