A project claiming to have produced the world’s first gened edited babies has been stopped by the Chinese government, which declares the work of scientist He Jiankui as being both illegal and unethical, according to the Associated Press.
The world learned of He’s experiment earlier this week, though we are still waiting to see outside scientific confirmation of his assertions. In Hong Kong gisteren, de wetenschapper beweerde dat hij de CRISPR / cas9 gene-editing tool gebruikt om humane embryo’s te veranderen, maar hij zei dat hij was “proud” of the work. The resulting twins, born earlier this month to an unknown couple, are now supposedly immune to HIV.
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This news was greeted with almost universal condemnation, with most mainstream scientists and ethicists complaining that he violated established scientific and ethical standards, among others complaints. He is being accused of unduly experimenting with humans with an unproven and potentially unsafe technology.
On Tuesday, China ordered a “thorough investigation” into the project, but as the Associated Press is reporting today, the government has now taken the added step of shutting down the work until further notice. Speaking to CCTV state television, China’s Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Xu Nanping, said the government is strongly opposed to the project. Xu said the experiment “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable,” as reported by AP.
No further details were given, nor did the minister explain what might happen to He and his associates in the days and weeks ahead.
China’s response to this incident could set an important precedent for a country accused of being the Wild West of Biomedical Research. No doubt, China has been at the forefront of gene-editing research for a few years now. Scientists there created the world’s first gen-edited human embryo and the first cloned monkeys, as two examples. Critics have complained that these achievements are the product of China’s lax regulatory structure, compared to the situation in the U.S. or Europe.
Those accusations aside, He’s project appears to be the work of an unsupervised lab that took great pain to avoid proper channels, such as failing to file the clinical trial to the country’s registry until early November, which was about the same time the twin girls were born. Additionally, Chinese scientists have rushed to condemn He’s work. In een gezamenlijke verklaring gepubliceerd eerder deze week heeft de Genetische Vereniging van China en de Chinese Vereniging voor Stemcelonderzoek de “sterke veroordeling” het project voor zijn “extreme irresponsibility, zowel wetenschappelijk en ethisch.” En als VOA-rapportages, over 300 wetenschappers , både fra Kina og i udlandet, har underskrevet en anmodning om spørgsmålet om nødvendigheden af arbejdet.
This incident is certainly a teachable moment-though hopefully not at the expense of these twin girls whose future health remains unknown.