China gets tough on geneticist

A MAINLAND scientist who claims to have made the world’s first ‘gene-edited’ babies broke the law and will be severely dealt with, according to a Guangdong (廣東省) government investigation.
He Jiankui (賀建奎), an associate professor in the Department of Biology of the Southern University, claimed last November that his team used geneediting 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.
The initial findings of a probe concluded that He organised a team that included foreign staff, intentionally avoided surveillance and used technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness to perform human embryo gene-editing activities with the purpose of reproduction, which is officially banned.
The investigation also found He had intentionally evaded oversight and raised funds for himself to “seek personal fame and profit”, causing bad influence domestically and internationally.
He selected eight couples where the men were HIV positive, and the women were HIV negative for his project.
He defended himself at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong in November 2018, saying that gene editing would help protect the girls and millions of other HIV children as such HIV vaccines are not available.

(This article is published on Junior Standard on 29 January 2019)

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