scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university
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[January 21, 2019]
SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - A Chinese
scientist responsible for what he said were the world's first
"gene-edited" babies evaded oversight and broke guidelines in a quest
for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as the university
where he worked announced his dismissal.
He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing 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.
Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and
said any application of gene editing on human embryos for
reproductive purposes was unethical.
Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to
research activities involving the editing of human genes.
He had "deliberately evaded oversight" with the intent of creating a
gene-edited baby "for the purpose of reproduction", according to the
initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health
Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news
He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people
to carry out the procedure in order to "seek personal fame and
profit", Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review
papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.
The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable
and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by
national decree, the report said.
The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the
city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had
"Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with
Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research
activities at SUSTech," the statement said.
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The university added the decision came after a preliminary
investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.
Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on
He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November,
saying that he was "proud" of what he had done and that gene editing
would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS.
He's announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over
which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure,
as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.
Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human
embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction, and
says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.
The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing
crimes had been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed
spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Sue-Lin Wong in
Shenzhen, CHINA; editing by Nick Macfie)
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