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'Gene-edited babies': China halts work of He Jiankui
30 November 2018, 01:28 | Louis Holland
As germline edits the new traits could be passed on to offspring
The scientists gathered in Hong Kong this week for an global conference on gene editing, the ability to rewrite the code of life to try to correct or prevent disease.
Conference leaders called for an independent investigation of the claim by Mr He, of Shenzhen, who spoke to the group on Wednesday as worldwide criticism of his claim mounted.
Globally speaking, the field is so new and cutting edge that experts simply don't know the full impact and risk involved for a gene edited embryo as it develops into adulthood, and how changed DNA might pass into future generations.
Gene-editing of this nature is illegal in many countries including the United States and according to Caixin, such experimentation is also banned by a Chinese regulators.
Jiankui said on Monday that the twin sisters he created, named Lulu and Nana, would be resistant to HIV as the embryos were modified with advanced gene-editing tools.
In a video posted on YouTube, university professor He said that the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV.
He has said a second pregnancy may be underway. According to Mazhar Adli, a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine: "Deleting a single gene may not only alter how other genes are going to function but also may alter the overall behavior of the cell and the phenotype of [the] organism".
"I haven't seen any of the research and I don't know what he is planning to claim", Baltimore said.
Nobel prize-winning geneticist David Baltimore, who is taking part in the conference, described He's work as a failure of self-regulation among scientists.
He, who said his work was self-funded, shrugged off concerns that the research was conducted in secrecy, explaining that he had engaged the scientific community over the past three years.
Southern University of Science and Technology said that it is unaware of the research project and is launching an investigation.
He's experiment "crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable", Xu said. He is now under investigation by his university, the Chinese government and the hospital he claims gave him ethical approval for the trial.
"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they made a decision to implant", he said.
More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China. "This is not just for this case, but for millions of children".
The National Health Commission has ordered local officials in Guangdong province to investigate He's actions, and his employer, Southern University of Science and Technology, is investigating as well.
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