"Genetically Engineered Babies": China suspends He Jiankui's work


Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Modification in Hong Kong

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Prof He says that there is a second potential pregnancy

China has put an end to the work of the scientist who claims to have created the world's first genetically modified babies, and has announced plans to investigate.

He Jiankui provoked outrage earlier this week when he said at a genome summit that he had modified the genes of twins so that they could not contract HIV .

His statement has not been confirmed, but if it violates the strict rules regarding the use of gene editing in humans

Professor He's university said he was not aware of his experience.

The South Shenzhen University of Science and Technology announced earlier this week that he had been on leave without pay since February and would investigate the claims.

On Thursday, the Chinese Ministry of Science said that he "had asked the organization concerned to suspend the scientific activities of the personnel concerned".

The National Health Commission has already stated that its work "seriously violates China's laws, regulations and ethical standards" and would investigate these allegations.

What did the scientist say?

He announced that he had modified the DNA of embryos – binoculars called Lula and Nana – to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Addressing the summit on human genome editing at the University of Hong Kong, he said the girls were "born normal and healthy" and that they would be monitored at over the next 18 years.

He stated that he had funded the experience himself and confirmed that his university was not aware of it.

Prof. He also explained that eight couples, composed of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers, had voluntarily enrolled for the experiment. One couple gave up but there was "another potential pregnancy" of an embryo modified by a gene in its infancy.

He stated that his study had been submitted to a scientific review for review, although he did not name this review. He was also elusive about other details, including the names of "some experts", he said, reviewing his work and giving his opinion.

Why is his work controversial?

The Crispr gene editing tool that he would have used is not new to the scientific world and was discovered in 2012.

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It works by using "molecular scissors" to modify a very specific DNA strand – by cutting it, replacing it or refining it.

Gene editing could potentially help avoid hereditary diseases by removing or modifying the annoying coding of embryos.

  • What is Crispr?
  • Crispr: human embryos and ethical concerns

But experts worry about interfering in the genome of an embryo, which could harm not only the individual but also future generations who will inherit these same changes.

Hundreds of scientists in China and around the world have quickly condemned his claims.

Professor Julian Savulescu, an ethics expert at Oxford University, said that if it was true, "this experience is monstrous".

"The gene editing itself is experimental and is still associated with untargeted mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and late in life, including the development of cancer," she said. he told the BBC. "This experiment exposes normal and healthy children to the risks of gene editing without any benefit actually needed."

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have laws that prohibit the use of genome modification of embryos for human assisted human procreation. Scientists can perform research on gene editing on discarded IVF embryos, provided that they are destroyed immediately afterwards and that they are not used to make a baby.

China authorizes in vitro research on human embryonic stem cells for up to 14 days, said China's Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Xu Nanping.

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