Leading geneticists around the world call for investigation into "deeply troubling" claims

In a statement closing the second International Summit on Human Genome Modification in Hong Kong, the organizing council of the event said He Jiankui's research was "irresponsible" and called for an assessment to "verify this assertion and determine whether the alleged changes in DNA have occurred. "

Associate professor at the South Shenzhen University of Science and Technology, he sent shockwaves to the scientific community on Monday when he announced in an online video that two apparently good twins health were born this month of modified embryos to make them resistant to HIV.

The council, made up of 14 leading geneticists from around the world, warned that even if its claims were verified, the procedure would not be in line with international standards.

"His defects include inadequate medical indication, a poorly designed study protocol, non-compliance with ethical standards for protecting the welfare of research subjects, and a lack of transparency in the development, revision, and conducting clinical procedures, "the statement said. I said.

Presenting his findings for the first time at the summit on Wednesday, he publicly defended his work, saying he felt "proud" of his feat. He also raised the possibility that a third child would be born after announcing that a separated woman was pregnant at an early stage with a modified embryo.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Modification in Hong Kong on November 28, 2018.

His research has raised serious ethical questions about the transparency of gene editing and sparked calls from some event participants for a binding code of conduct at the global level.

Clinical use of "irresponsible" genetic editing

The scientists reiterated an agreement reached at the previous conference in 2015, that it would be irresponsible to use this type of genetic check until the safety issues were resolved.

"While welcoming the rapid progress of somatic gene editing in clinical trials, we continue to believe that any clinical use of germ line editing remains irresponsible for the moment," the statement said.

The editing of genes in germ lines refers to the genetic modifications in each cell, which will be passed on to future generations. This differs from the somatic cell gene editing (body), in which only existing cells are targeted and the changes made are not passed on to future offspring.

David Baltimore, chairman of the conference and Nobel laureate, acknowledged that it would be difficult to verify that he claims that he was, because nobody knows who or where his subjects are.

"We asked for an investigation, but we did not explain how to do it because it depends on the type of cooperation we get from it," Baltimore said.

Separately, it is the subject of a Chinese government investigation.

Risky experiment of a Chinese scientist with babies who modify genes

In a joint statement issued Monday, more than 120 Chinese scientists have condemned the use by the editor of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool as a "huge blow" to the research reputation Chinese biomedical.

"This is extremely unfair to Chinese scientists who are diligent, innovative and defending the fundamental principles of scientific ethics," they wrote, adding that "directly experimenting with human beings is not that of madness ".

The hospital named in He's ethical approval documents and the university with which he is affiliated denied any involvement in the proceedings.

Organizers proposed Thursday to set standards for preclinical evidence and the accuracy of genetic modification that include "applicable standards of professional behavior".

Currently, each country has its own rules and regulations relating to gene editing.

The scientific community & # 39; must do more & # 39;

Speaking at a question and answer session after Mr. He's presentation on Wednesday, Mr. Baltimore said the case showed that "there was a failure in the business." self-regulation by the scientific community due to lack of transparency ".

That he could tinker with life-changing technology far from the eyes of regulators has drawn a lot of people into the scientific community.

"We did not know it was going to happen," CNN's Jennifer Doudna, a professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and one of CRISPR's co-inventors, told CNN.

"I hope it's a wake-up call for everyone to recognize that while this technology is incredibly exciting, it's an important time when we have to take responsibility for it." managing this technology for the future. "

A few days before the conference, Feng Zhang, also a co-inventor of CRISPR and a member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, called for a moratorium on the use of technology to alter babies' genes.

"The technology is still in its infancy and many problems still need to be solved," he told CNN. Zhang acknowledged that it would be difficult to regulate this type of research, but added that it was important to define "a set of requirements on how to present a complete and informative application for development experimental drugs ".

"We can do more on this front," he said.

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