China halts activities of baby gene-editing scientist

China halts activities of baby gene-editing scientist

The Crispr gene editing tool he claims to have used is not new to the scientific world, and was first discovered in 2012.

Mainstream scientists have condemned the experiment, and universities and government groups continue to investigate.

"The gene-edited twins matter reported by the media has brazenly violated Chinese laws and regulations and breached the science ethics bottom line, which is both shocking and unacceptable", said Xu Nanping, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Xinhua reported.

While most scientists have reacted with dismay to the experiments, some researchers in China are anxious that the intervention by the National Health Commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology could lead to overregulation that might stifle any hope of advances by their country in biotechnologies.

He stunned the scientific world by announcing that human embryo genes had been changed in twin girls, called Lulu and Nana, making them supposedly immune to contracting the HIV virus. He said he had submitted his research to a scientific journal for review and had not expected to be presenting it at this conference.

The claim could not be independently verified and was met with a combination of scepticism and concern. Speaking at a genome editing summit at the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday, He was given the opportunity to defend his actions and give details about the science behind the project.

The founder of the Baihualin (BHL) China League, who calls himself "Bai Hua", reportedly introduced 50 families to Dr He's team.

"Three scientists were disciplined, they were dismissed from their positions, and they could not apply for grants over a certain period of time, so [He's case] may be similar to this", Qiu told Al Jazeera. "Actually right now my personal feeling is that they are a bit insane", he told RTHK.

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"The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation", he said.

"The team all along emphasised that the chance of success was high, and that there were risks, but they were low", he told RTHK.

"For this specific case, I feel proud, actually", the scientist, He Jiankui, said at an global conference on genome editing in Hong Kong. "I feel proudest, because they had lost hope for life", He said, when challenged by several peers at the conference (live stream below). It said his procedures had a number of flaws, ranging from a poorly-designed study protocol for ensuring transparency to a failure to meet ethical standards to protect the welfare of research subjects.

Prof He also explained that eight couples - comprised of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - had signed up voluntarily for the experiment.

He said there had been "another potential pregnancy" involving a second couple, but when questioned further agreed it had been a chemical pregnancy - a term referring to a very early miscarriage.

Experts warned that editing human embryos can create unintended mutations in other areas - so-called "off-target effects" - which can have an impact through the lifetime.

The Stanford-educated researcher said the twins' DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

"They need this protection since a vaccine is not available", He said.

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