China Stops Controversial Human Gene-Editing Program

China Stops Controversial Human Gene-Editing Program

Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of science and technology, said Tuesday that the Chinese government had issued regulations in 2003 that permitted gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remain viable no more than 14 days, according to the state broadcaster China Central Television.

He gave a partial apology in front of a packed auditorium at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, although the contrition seemed to be more for the information about the births coming out before his research had been vetted by the scientific community, rather than for having carried it out. He was supposed to speak before the summit again Thursday, but canceled his appearance. "The choice of the diseases that we heard discussions about earlier today are much more pressing" than trying to prevent HIV infection this way, he said. However, his work has not been verified.

"Scientists who go rogue ... it carries a deep, deep cost to the scientific community", Daley said.

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 of China, is investigating as well. "He, I can only conclude that this was misguided, premature, unnecessary and largely useless", said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He acknowledged he had not made his university in China aware of the research he was doing.

On Wednesday, while addressing around 700 people attending the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong, He said that he is proud of his work. In all, 16 of 22 embryos were edited, and 11 embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He said. He said he recruited the couples from an "HIV AIDS volunteer group".

Prof He also said that the study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal.

Associate Professor He later revealed "another potential pregnancy" of a gene-edited embryo was in its early stages.

But he apologised that his research "was leaked unexpectedly".

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"The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation", he added.

Why is it this controversial?

Scientists there created the world's first gene-edited human embryo and the first cloned monkeys, as two examples.

It works by using "molecular scissors" to alter a very specific strand of DNA - either cutting it out, replacing it or tweaking it. The controversial gene-editing, which is banned in most countries, unsurprisingly led to worldwide outcry. Researchers have stressed that the risk of off-target effects (unintentionally changing other genes) and mosaicism (only altering the target gene in some of the child's cells rather than all of them) could lead to unexpected and harmful health effects such as cancer later in life.

Prof He's recent claims were widely criticised by other scientists.

After the presentation, he was met with criticism and ethical questions regarding the transparency of gene editing, and it also sparked calls for global agreement as the process outpaces the ability to make new laws. Yet he called the reported experiment "monstrous", in light of the serious risks and lack of necessity.

Last September, scientists at Sun Yat-sen University used an adapted version of gene-editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos.

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have laws that prevent the use of genome editing in embryos for assisted reproduction in humans.

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