Chinese scientist who made gene-edited babies evaded oversight to seek fame: report

Science

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese scientist who said he made the world’s first “gene-edited” babies intentionally evaded oversight and broke national guidelines in a quest for fame and fortune, according to a government investigation quoted in state media on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Scientist He Jiankui speaks at his company Direct Genomics in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

Scientist 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; editing by Darren Schuettler

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