WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- China has ordered a stop to all gene-editing research following an announcement from an untrained billionaire who created ‘gene-edited’ babies.
- Chinese scientist He Jiankui was condemned by international scientists for ‘thinking he was doing the next big thing,’ with ‘no basic training in biology’ and ignoring all the norms of clinical research.
- Chinese authorities have declared that any form of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes is against China’s laws and medical ethics.
Chinese scientist He Jiankui had announced that he had created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies at the November Human Genome Editing Summit at Hong Kong University. But instead of being celebrated, it sparked an international scientific and ethical row as experts argued that he ignored all the norms of clinical research and had created mutants.
Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading geneticist at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and organizer of the November 2018 event, condemned the Chinese scientist for potentially jeopardizing lives and having no biology training, and called Mr. He a rich man with a “huge ego” who “wanted to do something he thinks will change the world.”
He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, stated that he had used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November.
Mr. He claimed in online videos and at the conference that his gene editing would help offer protection from HIV infections, which causes AIDS.
Chinese authorities have since halted all gene-editing research and are investigating Mr. He, who is currently in a guarded apartment in Shenzhen during the probe.
Lovell-Badge cautioned, “If it’s true that he edited the genomes in the way he says then it is certainly possible that he has put the children’s lives at risk. No one knows what these mutations will do.”
Lovell-Badge had initially invited Mr. He to the conference after hearing in scientific circles that he was “up to something,” and hoped that interacting with specialists would discourage him from continuing his work, but it was already too late. He only learned of Mr. He’s claims on the eve of the conference.
Lovell-Badge explained, “He thought that he was doing good, and that what he was doing was the next big thing,” but Mr. He had “no basic training in biology” and his experiments “ignored all the norms of how you conduct any clinical trial or clinical experiment.”
Lovell-Badge warned, “He should certainly be stopped from doing anything like this again.”
Chinese authorities have declared that any form of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes is against China’s laws and medical ethics.