Scientist Who Edited Babies' Genes May Be in Big Trouble

He Jiankui expected to face charges in China
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2019 12:17 PM CST
China Goes After Scientist Who Edited Babies' Genes
In this Nov. 28, 2018, photo, He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

A Chinese researcher who stunned the science world with his announcement in November that he had created the world's first gene-edited babies might not be free to conduct further research in the near future. Government investigators in China have concluded that He Jiankui and his team violated state regulations, a finding expected to result in criminal charges. The New York Times reports He's whereabouts are uncertain, but he had reportedly been detained at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen as the investigation unfolded. On Monday, the university said it had fired He, who came under fire from the global scientific community for his bombshell announcement last year about the birth of twins whose genes had been edited using CRISPR technology.

Investigators found that He “organized a project team that included foreign staff, which intentionally avoided surveillance and used technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness to perform human embryo gene-editing activity with the purpose of reproduction, which is officially banned in the country," per the South China Morning Post. Investigators accused He of forging ethical review papers in pursuit of fame and fortune. They also say He obtained private funding for his work to avoid scrutiny, reports the BBC. He claims to have manipulated the twins' DNA to make them immune to HIV, and critics say it's way too early to take such a step given the unknowns. A second woman in He's experiment is currently pregnant. (He kept his work shrouded in secrecy.)

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