China launches investigation into claims about ‘genetically-altered’ twins

China has launched an investigation into the claim made by Shenzhen-based scientist He Jiankui on Monday that he has created the world’s first “genetically-edited” twins, triggering disbelief and criticism from the scientific community.

world Updated: Nov 27, 2018 10:37 IST
Hindustan Times, Beijing
China,He Jiankui,Shenzhen
He Jiankui claimed that his team had successfully altered the CCR5 gene of twins born earlier this month in China with a gene technology called CRISPR, known as the “gene scalpel”, people.cn reported.(AP)

China has launched an investigation into the claim made by Shenzhen-based scientist He Jiankui on Monday that he has created the world’s first “genetically-edited” twins, triggering disbelief and criticism from the scientific community.

The twins, Lulu and Nana, are resistant to HIV, state media reported, according to the claims made by the scientist.

In a statement released late on Monday night, the National Health Commission (NHC), China’s top health supervisory body, said it had directed local authorities to investigate the experiment and He’s claims.

It was paying close attention to reports about the experiment, the NHC statement said.

The statement said information about the investigation should be made public in a timely manner.

The experiment was led by He Jiankui, an associate professor of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUST)’s Biology department.

He claimed that his team had successfully altered the CCR5 gene of twins born earlier this month in China with a gene technology called CRISPR, known as the “gene scalpel,” people.cn reported.

The CCR5 gene is the main receptor in the human body for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The news trended on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, soon after it was published with thousands of netizens weighing in on the debate about tinkering with human genes.

The news quickly gathered controversy after SUST said in a statement late on Monday that it is “deeply shocked” by He’s experiment and believes the work “seriously violates academic ethics and norms”.

A large group of Chinese scientists too agreed about the risks. A group of 122 leading scientists from China condemned “gene editing” in a statement on Weibo, where they questioned the ethics and potential pitfalls of tinkering with human genes.

“Direct human experimentation can only be described as madness. The accuracy of the CRISPR gene editing technology and the off-target effects it brings are very controversial within the scientific community. There is a huge risk in any attempt to directly perform human embryo transformation and attempt to produce a baby before rigorous further testing,” the scientists said.

First reported by the MIT Technology Review and the Associated Press (AP), the reports said scientist He Jiankui had claimed to have altered embryos for seven couples. The scientist told AP that he had altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far.

First Published: Nov 27, 2018 10:37 IST