China's government ordered a halt Thursday to work by a medical team that claimed to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies, as a group of leading scientists declared that it's still too soon to try to make permanent changes to DNA that can be inherited by future generations. The researcher in charge of the project, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, also published a series of videos explaining the gene-editing project.
Yang Zhengang, a Fudan University professor, told Reuters he signed the letter because gene editing is "very unsafe".
It was unclear whether the pregnancy had ended or not.
"Not only do I see this as risky, but I am also deeply concerned about the lack of transparency" around the work, Zhang, a scientist at MIT's Broad Institute, said in a statement.
He added that he had submitted his research to a scientific journal for review and had not expected to be presenting it at the conference.
R Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said if He had done the trial in the United States it "would have been in violation of public law" and involve "penalties [that] are both civil and criminal" because of approvals needed through the Food and Drug Administration for human cells and therapy studies where cells are brought to gestation.
Like many countries, China allows gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remained viable for no more than 14 days.
Scientist He Jiankui attends the International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong
Summit organisers said germline genome editing could become "acceptable" in future if rigorous criteria are met, including "strict independent oversight".
He's announcement, which has not been verified, sparked an global outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.
Instead, it's been thrown into chaos after a Chinese scientist claimed to have gone forward with his own quest to genetically modify human embryos, some of which have already been carried to term, resulting in the first genetically modified humans.
All couples he recruited for this study had an HIV-positive father, and a non-infected mother.
And he insisted that the parents of the twins and seven other couples who had participated in his research were fully informed of the risks involved, and that they understood what was being done to their embryos. He's research was the status of a possible pregnancy of a second woman he said he had implanted with an edited embryo.
Baltimore added, "I don't think it has been a transparent process. We only found out about it after it happened, and after the children were born", Baltimore said on stage. He said he would monitor the two newborns for the next 18 years and hoped they would support continued monitoring thereafter.
The Crispr gene editing tool he claims to have used is not new to the scientific world, and was first discovered in 2012. Their statement was emailed on Thursday but dated on Tuesday.
The government's medical ethics committee in the city of Shenzhen, in southern China, said it was investigating the case, as was the Guangdong provincial health commission, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, a state media outlet.
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