Scientist He Jiankui defends world's first gene-edited babies

First Published 29, Nov 2018, 7:30 PM IST
Scientist He Jiankui defends world's first gene-edited babies
Highlights

He Jiankui accepted that he had altered a gene in the embryos before implanting them in the mother’s womb, with the intention of making them immune to HIV infection

Shenzhen/China: On Monday, scientist He Jiankui of China had announced that he had created the world’s first genetically-edited twin babies, who were born this month.

He Jiankui accepted that he had altered a gene in the embryos before implanting them in the mother’s womb, with the intention of making them immune to HIV infection. It is also said that Jiankui did not publish the research in any publication and did not share any evidence or data that proves he had done it.

Reacting to this, Dr Alexander Marson, a gene-editing expert at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “It’s scary.”

The United States and many other countries have declared that altering the genes of human embryos intentionally is unlawful. However, in China, it is not against the law, but its practices are avoided by many researchers there.

A club of 122 Chinese scientists issued a statement calling Dr He's actions as “crazy” and claimed this would be “a huge blow to the global reputation and development of Chinese science”.

“It is extremely unfair to Chinese scientists who are diligent, innovative, while defending the bottom line of scientific ethics,” the statement said, criticising the influence of Jiankui's practice on other Chinese scientists.

Amid the objection, research institutions, which are connected to Jiankui's work, have now distanced themselves from him. Southern University of Science and Technology in China said, “This research work was carried out by Professor He Jiankui outside of the school,” where Jiankui worked, and also called his research a “serious violation of academic ethics”.

A hospital in Shenzhen where He said he received an approval from an ethics board to conduct his work, denied any link to him. The Shenzhen Harmonicare Women’s and Children’s Hospital said that they had complained to the police.

Amid criticisms slamming He, China’s National Health Commission late on Monday ordered officials to “seriously investigate and verify” Jiankui's claims. Shenzhen’s Health and Family Planning commission said that they are investigating the ethics committee and review process of Jiankui's work.

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