China Orders Halt to Research in Gene Editing

Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong

Harvard University's Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology David Liu says: "It's an appalling example of what not to do with a new technology that has incredible potential to benefit society". He was accused of experimenting on humans with an unproven and potentially risky technology, as the changes made on the babies could be passed on to future generations.

The China government in retaliation to worldwide scientific furore has ordered a "thorough investigation" into the project and has stopped further work.

He Jiankui - the China-born, US-trained mastermind of the project - has now spoken about his work for the first time since the story erupted.

He Jiankui released five videos on Monday, saying he had used a gene-editing technology to alter the DNA of embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one woman giving birth this month.

Doudna, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says she hopes CRISPR will someday be used to edit awful diseases out of the human genome.

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 risky and unjustified. The couples had received hours of counselling before the procedure, with He promising that he would improve their children as well as making them resistant to HIV.

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With so many genetics researchers in one place this week, opinions on He's work have come fast but vary little.

What he did share at the conference on Hong Kong has led some to question the success and the safety of his experiment, though it's hard to really determine what happened or how well it worked without a full set of data from He. It is not clear whether the participants fully understood goal and potential risks and benefits. In the United Kingdom, editing of embryos may be permitted for research purposes with strict regulatory approval.

Even more concerning, Musunuru says, is that tests conducted on the newborns, and when they were embryos, suggest both girls may have mosaicism, which means the edits worked on only some of their cells. Staff at other hospitals were kept in the dark about the nature of his work to keep some of the participants information from being disclosed other than the fact that the samples might contain HIV. "We recommend an independent assessment to verify this claim and to ascertain whether the claimed DNA modifications have occurred".

He called the team's actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered to punish the researchers, but made no mention of specific actions taken.

The China Association for Science and Technology said it will disqualify He's candidacy for an award for young scientists as it has "zero tolerance" for breaches of scientific ethics and norms. The scientist also faces probes by the Shenzhen City Medical Ethics Expert Board and the Chinese Academy of Science's academic division. Conference leaders called for an independent investigation of the claim by He Jiankui of Shenzhen, who spoke to the group Wednesday as worldwide criticism of his claim mounted. Questions remain about the way he proceeded, giving official notice of his work long after he said he started it on Nov 8 on a Chinese registry of clinical trials.

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