Gene Editing Pioneer Speaks Out Against Genetic Editing Of Babies In China

Chinese researcher He Jiankui

Chinese researcher He Jiankui

While China has allowed other game-changing technologies to proceed with relatively little interference, it would be a mistake to view the country as wide-open even for those innovations.

Southern University of Science and Technology, where Jiankui works, issued a statement, seemingly condemning the claim.

He said the babies, known as "Lulu" and "Nana" although they are not their real names, were born through regular IVF but using an egg which was specially modified before being inserted into the womb.

Dr. Janet Rossant, a senior scientist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, cautioned that it's unclear if the research actually occurred, as it has not been published in a medical journal or verified by other scientists.

"The fact that someone would say that they were doing that or perhaps do that is frightening because it does take us to a different level", said Goodman.

The Chinese scientist is under intense pressure to produce compelling evidence, and to show he complied with ethical standards.

In this October 10, 2018 photo, He Jiankui speaks during an interview at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have - an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus.

Doudna, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the Hong Kong conference organizers, said that He met with her Monday to tell her of his work, and that she and others plan to let him speak at the conference Wednesday as originally planned.

"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example", He told the AP.

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"Society will decide what to do next". Stat News reported that Rice University has opened a "full investigation" into the reported involvement of one of its faculty members, bioengineering professor Michael Deem. An investigation is underway and He has been suspended from his university. But he remains an employee and still works in the laboratory.

But in a statement posted Tuesday morning, China's National Health Commission said that it had "immediately requested the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission to seriously investigate and verify" the claims made by He Jiankui. "I think they're thinking about enhancement ... about sort of bespoke babies that I don't think we, as a species, are quite ready for that ethically or safely".

In this October 9, 2018 photo, a microplate containing embryos that have been injected with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA is seen in a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.

Human gene-editing has been a contentious subject of research and debate since related technologies and equipment became widely available in 2015. Specifically, He deleted a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. For now, human gene editing trials are limited to cautious, well-designed and transparent studies that do not produce heritable changes. Such experimentation is illegal in the US and some other nations. Some have called He's work illegal, but while human cloning is illegal in China, gene editing isn't.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said: "Genetic editing technology is far from mature and could have unforeseen consequences for the subjects".

Bioethicist Julian Savulescu from the University of Oxford described the experiment as "monstrous" in an interview with the BBC. It raised deep questions for scientists about whether traditional oversight channels were followed, as well as what to believe about the experiment and the results.

The idea of scientists tinkering with the genes of babies was once the provenance of science fiction, but now it's entered the realm of reality: On Nov. 26, Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported the historic live births of two twin girls whose genes he had edited.

According to a description of the experiment posted online, He created embryos from couples with an HIV-infected father.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Hai Do was the editor.

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