Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Chinese investigation: 'gene-edited' babies created illegally

Out-Law News | 22 Jan 2019 | 4:59 pm | 1 min. read

A scientist who claims to have used gene-editing technology to alter the DNA of two new babies in China did so illegally, an investigation into the case has found, according to Chinese state media.

Late last November, the MIT Technology Review reported that He Jiankui had led a team of researchers in conducting clinical trials in an effort to eliminate a gene called 'CCR5' in embryos in a bid to create babies that are resistant to HIV. Associated Press subsequently reported that He had confirmed working with a number of couples, altering embryos and implanting them back into the mother, and that in one case twin girls had been born with altered DNA.

At the time, the claims made by He attracted significant criticism from across the scientific community, and it prompted the Chinese government to suspended research into human gene editing and the World Health Organization (WHO) to put together a panel of experts to look into the activity.

An investigation was opened into He's work by Guangdong Province. State news agency Xinhua said that the investigation found He had begun the project in June 2016 and that the scientist had "intentionally dodged supervision, raised funds and organised researchers on his own to carry out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction", in breach of Chinese regulation.

The investigation also found He had recruited some researchers from overseas to help with the project and had relied on a "fake ethical review certificate" to recruit eight couples to participate in testing, according to the report. The experiments were conducted between March 2017 and November 2018, it said.

Asawari Churi, a member of the intellectual property law and life sciences teams at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com and a former research scientist in molecular biology, has called for international rules to govern the use of gene-editing technologies, such as CRISPR. She previously welcomed the move by the WHO to examine the issue and said she hopes it leads to the development of "global ground rules for human gene-editing".