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“This is crazy”: the clinic, university and colleagues disown the Chinese professor of genetics

The Chinese authorities, scientists and physicians have officially announced that they have nothing to do with the scandalous experiment on the birth of genetically modified children, which Professor He Jiankui announced the day before. And the scientific community published an open letter, strongly condemning his work.

On Monday, Professor He shocked the scientific community, stating that he was the first to manage to edit the genome of a human fetus and the resulting twin girls are innate to HIV infection.

However, the professor did not provide any evidence of his words. The experiment was not described in any scientific journal, where it could be studied by other genetic experts, and the newborn twins themselves (if they exist) and their parents were not presented to the public, because “the family wanted to preserve anonymity and did not want to communicate with journalists.”

The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, in which the professor is listed, published a statement in which he denied any involvement of the university in this experiment, if it was conducted. There it is stated that He Jiankui has been on unpaid leave since February of this year, his experiments with embryos definitely did not take place on the university’s territory or during paid university hours, and nothing was known about them to the university or to the administration of the Faculty of Biology.

“The Southern University of Science and Technology strictly demands that any scientific research be carried out within the framework of international academic ethics and academic norms in accordance with national laws and regulations,” the statement reads.

It also states that the university administration hires independent experts to investigate the allegations of Professor He.

The leadership of the clinic in Shenzhen, which on the eve also rejected any involvement in the scandalous experiment, said on Tuesday that the approval of the ethics committee, allegedly received by He Jiankuem and appearing in published online documents for recruiting volunteers, is fake, because on medical ethics simply was not. ”

Jiu Nanping, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology of China, told reporters that he was completely shocked by Professor He’s statement, and such experiments in China have been banned since 2003:

We do not know whether this news is true or not. But if this is true, then it is certainly illegal in China.

“Pandora’s Box is Open”

More than 100 reputable scientists, mainly from China, signed an open letter, strongly condemning the alleged experiment. It says that using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the human genome is “risky, unjustified and detrimental to the reputation and development of the Chinese biomedical community.”

“Pandora’s box is open. And perhaps we still have a faint glimmer of hope that it will be able to close before it is too late, ”says the text of the letter published on the website of the Chinese newspaper Paper, which costs about 120 signatures.

“The approval of this so-called study by the Commission on Biomedical Ethics exists only in words. Conducting direct experiments on people can be described only in one word – this is madness, ”the authors of the letter continue.

The Society of Geneticists of China and the Chinese Society of Stem Cell Research stated that He Jiankui conducted his experiment as an individual, and his work “presents a huge risk for research participants”:

“We believe that the study of Professor He directly contradicts both the rules adopted in China and the consensus reached by the international scientific community,” the joint statement of the two organizations says.

The head of the Center for Practical Ethics at Oxford University, Julian Savulescu, called the experiment of a Chinese professor monstrous.

Professor He himself published another video, stating that he is only trying to help families get rid of hereditary diseases. “We believe that historically ethics will be on our side. Recall the 1970s and Louise Brown (first child, born with the help of IVF – approx. Ed.) . Then the same fears were expressed and the same criticism sounded as now, ”he asserts.

Dangerous experiment

Professor He Jiankui is well known in the scientific world. He spent several years in the United States, where he first defended his doctoral thesis (in physics) at the prestigious private Rice University in Texas, and then worked at Stanford for two years. However, after that, the scientist returned to China as part of the state program “Plan a thousand talents.”

The Second International Genome Editing Summit opened in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Professor He’s speech is expected on Wednesday | Source: GETTY IMAGES

The technology of genetic editing CRISPR is not new, but such experiments with human embryos are legally prohibited in the United States and many other countries, where they are equated with experiments on people and call into question the ethics of “genetic programming” of unborn children.

There are great concerns and long-term consequences of such interference in the genome, since the changes will be passed on to all future generations — and it is not known how they will affect other DNA segments.

The second international genome editing summit, opening on Tuesday in Hong Kong, should answer this question: has the time come for humanity to interfere with its own genetic code – and, if so, how should it be done?

Most experts in bioethics in the UK and the USA are inclined to believe that editing the genome is permissible only in cases when it is impossible to achieve the desired result by other means. Transmission of HIV to the embryo can be prevented by well-known and widely used clinical methods, which is why scientists consider He Jiankuya’s proposal unethical.

Earlier experiments were aimed at eliminating severe hereditary diseases, while all modified embryos were destroyed.

He Jiankui put the summit organizers in front of a fact, announcing the birth of genetically modified twins the day before the conference.

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