Work on world’s first CRISPR gene-edited babies declared illegal by China
Chinese authorities have declared the work of He Jiankui, who shocked the scientific community by claiming he successfully created the world’s first gene-edited babies, an illegal decision in pursuit of “personal fame and gain.” Investigators have completed preliminary steps in a probe that began in November following He’s claims and say they will “seriously” punish the researcher for violations of the law, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
He, who taught at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology, had led a team to research the gene-editing technique CRISPR since mid-2016 in attempts to treat cancers and other diseases. The incident drew significant attention to the professor’s own biotech startups that are backed by local and overseas investors.
The official probe shows that He fabricated ethics approvals which he used to recruit eight couples to participate in clinical procedures between March 2017 and November 2018. The attempt led to two pregnancies, including one that resulted in the birth of twins and the other embryo yet to be born. Five couples failed to achieve fertilization and one pair dropped out of the experiment.
He’s project has sparked a wave of criticism among scientists across the world. CRISPR is still dangerously unethical at this point for it may cause serious genetic damage. Some researchers have proposed a moratorium on CRISPR until more guidelines become clear while others call for developing safer and more ethical methods to propel the technology forward. Many countries, including the United States and China, prohibit gene-editing of human embryos for reproductive purposes.