Gene-editing scientist under scrutiny by Chinese officials

Glen Mclaughlin
November 30, 2018

In the video, He declined further comment until presenting his findings to a bustling auditorium filled with journalists and camera crews at a Hong Kong scientific conference on Wednesday, after fallout and worldwide outrage over what some have called a "designer baby" experiment.

He Jiankui has told detractors at a conference in Hong Kong he's proud of his work. The work is highly controversial because the changes can be inherited and harm other genes.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also weighed in, emphasizing in a Twitter post the need for "more than just laws" to ensure CRISPR-Cas9 and other gene-editing technologies aren't misused or abused.

Last week, He Jiankui claimed that twin girls whose father is HIV positive were born resistant to the virus after he switched off a certain gene.

"For this specific case, I feel proud actually", He said at the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, a gathering of genetics specialists from around the world.

The university said it put the researcher on unpaid leave in February and that it would investigate the matter further.

"I think the failure was his, not the scientific community", Charo said.

Immediately after his presentation, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who led the conference's organising committee, told the audience that what He had done "would still be considered irresponsible".

The conference leader called Mr He's experiments "irresponsible", and said it provided evidence that the scientific community had failed to regulate itself to prevent premature efforts to alter human DNA.

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The China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), a research society mainly comprised of researchers and scientists, said He Jiankui's candidacy of an award for young scientists will be disqualified, as CAST adopts a "zero tolerance" attitude to those who breach scientific ethics and norms.

The research "crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable", Xu said.

"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they made a decision to implant", he said.

Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of science and technology, said Tuesday that the Chinese government had issued regulations in 2003 that permitted gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remain viable no more than 14 days, according to the state broadcaster China Central Television. "I feel proudest", He said, when challenged by several peers.

There is not yet independent confirmation of his claim, but scientists and regulators have been swift to condemn the experiment as unethical and unscientific.

He said he chose embryo gene editing for HIV because these infections are a big problem in China.

More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was unsafe and unjustified.

China's National Health Commission has also ordered an investigation. "Only found out about it after it happened and the children were born", Baltimore said.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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