Published: Sat, December 01, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

China halts work by team on gene-edited babies

China halts work by team on gene-edited babies

The Chinese government has stopped the gene editing works of Professor He Jiankui calling it unlawful and unethical.

A group of leading scientists gathered in Hong Kong this week for an global conference on gene editing, the ability to rewrite the code of life to try to correct or prevent diseases. When he presented his research on Wednesday, he said he was "proud" of his work.

The audience reacts as He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. They had HIV positive males and HIV negative mothers.

The Beijing News has reported that couples who agreed to participate were paid 280,000 yuan (US$40,000), on condition that they did not seek further compensation should the experiments go wrong. Couples decided whether to edit or unedit embryos for pregnancy attempts, 16 of 22 embryos were edited with 11 embryos being used in 6 implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved.

Responding to questions from the media and his peers during the event, the Southern University of Science and Technology researcher defended his experiment and revealed a second pregnancy. Some questioned whether the gene editing even happened.

"I feel more disturbed now", said David Liu of Harvard and MIT's Broad Institute, and inventor of a variation of the gene-editing tool. By using a method called Crispr-Cas9, Mr He was able to target specific blocks of DNA with pinpoint precision.

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The ministry was also quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying: "The nature of this incident is extremely nasty, and relevant bodies have been ordered to temporarily halt the scientific research activities of relevant personnel".

"The events in Hong Kong this week clearly demonstrate the need for us to develop more specific standards and principles that can be agreed upon by the worldwide scientific community", NAS president Marcia McNutt and NAM president Victor Dzau wrote. He was accused of experimenting on humans with an unproven and potentially unsafe technology, as the changes made on the babies could be passed on to future generations.

China's National Health Commission has ordered an investigation into He Jiankui's experiment, which was condemned by the scientific community in China and overseas. The National Health Commission has said Prof He's work "violates China's laws, regulations and ethical standards" and has said that investigations have been initiated.

Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV Thursday that his ministry is strongly opposed to the efforts that reportedly produced twin girls born earlier this month. He did not file for clinical trial registry of his work until after it was completed and the twin girls were already born. He was funding his own research.

In an open letter, more than 300 Chinese scientists raised 10 questions for He and his team related to safety, effectiveness and objective of the research, and whether he has concealed other related experiments from the public, China Daily reported. A spokesperson sent AP a statement credited to He that read, "I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work. My raw data will be made available for third party review".

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