China suspends research on gene-edited babies

The Chinese government halted work by He Jiankui, who have created the world’s first genetically edited humans. Jiankui’s breakthrough was suspended after it was declared that his conduct appeared to be unethical and in violation of the law.

Earlier this week, the scientist released a statement on YouTube, saying that he had successfully altered embryos which he implanted in the womb of a woman. This month she gave birth to the gene-edited twin girls – Lulu and Nana.

The powerful tool ‘CRISPR’ that allows parts of DNA to be replaced, was considered not ready to be used on human embryos for safety reasons. However, he used the technique to modify a certain gene, in embryos created by couples with HIV positive males. The procedure was presented as HIV vaccine trial since the edited gene was a doorway to the virus.

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Chinese regulations have not kept pace with He’s development. There is only one regulation from ‘ethics guidance’, concerning the topic but no specified punishment for this kind of violation exists. The Guardian reported that during an international conference in Hong Kong, the organizing committee said: “Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms. Its flaws include an inadequate medical indication, a poorly designed study protocol, a failure to meet ethical standards for protecting the welfare of research subjects, and a lack of transparency in the development, review, and conduct of the clinical procedures.” According to the New York Times, He Jiankui defended himself at the global summit, asserting that he was proud of what he had done.

Xu Nanping, China’s vice minister of science and technology, said the case was still being investigated. His ministry is strongly against the research and described the experiment as ‘illegal and unacceptable’, according to the AP.

 

Words: Tsvetelina Petrova | Subbing: Peony Hirwani

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