January 21, 2019 2:31 pm

China condemns scientist who claimed world’s first gene-edited babies

WATCH ABOVE: The Chinese government ordered a temporary halt to research activities for people involved in the editing of human genes, after a Chinese scientist said he had edited the genes of twin babies.

A A

A Chinese scientist who created what he said were the world’s first “gene-edited” babies evaded oversight and broke ethical boundaries in a quest for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as his former university said he had been fired.

Story continues below

He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born that month, sparking an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.

READ MORE: World’s first gene-edited babies created in China, scientist claims

Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical.

Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.

WATCH BELOW: Are gene-edited babies the future?

He had “deliberately evaded oversight” with the intent of creating a gene-edited baby “for the purpose of reproduction,” according to the initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about a Chinese scientist’s claim of gene-edited babies

He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to “seek personal fame and profit,” Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.

The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by national decree, the report said.

READ MORE: Chinese scientist who said he gene-edited babies is reportedly missing

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.

“Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech,” the statement said.

The university added the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.

WATCH BELOW: Chinese scientist defends gene-edited baby experiment

Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on Monday. He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November, saying that he was “proud” of what he had done and that gene editing would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

International experts in genetic science said they hoped that Monday’s report was only the initial result of investigations into He and that more action would be taken.

WATCH BELOW: Scientists edit man’s gene inside body for 1st time – but what are the risks?

“The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community,” said Yalda Jamshidi, a genomics expert at Britain’s University of London.

READ MORE: China orders scientists to stop work on gene-editing babies, calls it illegal

He’s announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure, as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.

Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction, and says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.

WATCH BELOW: Scientists testing genes to stop mosquitoes from spreading disease

The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing crimes have been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

READ MORE: Gene editing: how scientists used the tool to repair human embryos

Helen O’Neill, a reproductive science expert at University College London, said she was concerned that the report gave “no further clarification on what measures will be taken to prevent this happening in future, nor what will be done as punishment.”

© 2019 Reuters

Report an error

Comments

Want to discuss? Please read our Commenting Policy first.