Right before the world AIDS days, a Chinese professor, He Jiankui, from Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed that the world’s first gene-edited twin baby girls, who he helped generate with rewriting gene that could prevent HIV injection, has been successfully born.
“After birth, this verified that the gene-editing surgery was safe. No gene was changed except the one to prevent the HIV infection. The twin baby Nana and Lulu are as healthy and safe as other girl babies,” Jiankui said via social media.
“I understand my work will become controversial, but I believe families need this technology. I am willing to take the criticism.”
The assertion immediately ignited an enormous “earthquake” amid academic community and public opinions, which has intensified the international backlash.
More than 100 Chinese scientists launched a joint statement, expressing their intense denunciation that his behavior has hammered the image and development of China’s scientific community, for he has violated the rules on experimenting on humans.
Mr. He announced the process of the surgery at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, where experts from all over the world discussed regulations on gene editing. He said he used CRISPR-Cas9, a powerful gene editing tool, to disable copies of theCCR5 gene in embryos to prevent HIV injections.
However, that is not the most important point. In fact, what astonished scientists and ethicists was that he had ignored all ethical protocols.
“The world has moved on to the stage of embryo gene editing. There will be someone, somewhere, who is doing this. If it’s not me, it’s someone else,” Jiankui believes.
“We know the technology is very powerful. It’s basically a molecular scissors. We can cut DNA and make changes.
But it’s unclear how precise that cutting is, so the worry is that you cut in places that you don’t want to cut, inactivating genes that are very important, or maybe changing the expression of genes that could predispose to other problems, like cancer,” he said in an interview at Hong Kong.
China authorities have currently suspended all of Mr. He’s scientific projects, with the declaration that they were firmly against the experiment of genetic editing babies. Mr. He now also has been in a series of investigation.
“According to China’s regulation ‘Ethical Guiding Principles for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research,’ which was promulgated in 2003, it stipulates that genetic editing and modification on human embryos can be carried out for research purposes.
However, the incubation period in vitro should not exceed 14 days after fertilization or nuclear transplantation,” Xu Nanping, the vice minister of Science and Technology of China, responded to the public.
He pointed out emphatically:
“But if the gene editing baby is confirmed to have been born, which is apparently prohibited, then it will be handled in accordance with relevant Chinese regulations and laws.”