Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
Medicine | By Debra Reynolds

China orders halt to gene editing after outcry over babies

China orders halt to gene editing after outcry over babies

He Jiankui, who goes by "JK", studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the us before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.

Prof He also said that the study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal.

Conference moderator Robin Lovell-Badge said He's trial was a "backward step" for the science industry, but described the babies' birth as "momentous" nonetheless.

Scientist He Jiankui attends the International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong
Scientist He Jiankui attends the International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong

He's announcement, which has not been verified, sparked an worldwide outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.

Xu said the ministry is firmly against the research, noting that clinical procedures of gene-editing on human embryos for reproduction purposes are explicitly banned in China.

He, who was educated at Stanford University, said the twins' DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

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Co-creator of the technology Jennifer Doudna said she felt "horrified" at hearing He's talk, adding she was deeply concerned for the people affected and questioned whether they really understood the procedure.

Eight volunteer couples - HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - signed up to He's trial, with one dropping out before it was put on hold.

Scientists at the conference pressed He to prove that those taking part in the trial were aware of all the risks involved in the process.

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"We have called for an investigation but we haven't laid out how to do it, because it depends on what kind of cooperation we get from him", Baltimore said. Among the concerns are his lack of transparency and questions of whether his patients properly consented. It does not mention that such an experiment has never been done before.

"I first must apologize that this result leaked unexpectedly, taking away from the community of the full data being presented immediately in a scientific venue", He said. "Progress over the last three years and the discussions at the current summit, . suggest that it is time to define a rigorous, responsible. pathway toward such trials", said Baltimore, a Nobel-prize winning US biologist. He said he would monitor the two newborns for the next 18 years and hoped they would support continued monitoring thereafter.

Led by He Jiankui, the team of researchers had recruited couples for a study where CRISPR-Cas9 was used to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in human embryos before implanting them into women using in vitro fertilization (IVF). The U.S. Academies released a statement on Tuesday affirming the recommendations made in their 2017 report.

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The National Health Commission has ordered local officials in Guangdong province to investigate He's actions, and his employer, Southern University of Science and Technology, is investigating as well.

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