Yesterday appeared the news of a Chinese scientist who claims to have edited the genes of human embryos that were then carried to term. The man, He Jiankui, made the claims before a conference on genetic technology, and his alleged work generated quick criticism from many other medical researchers who believe that human genetic modification is dangerous and unethical.
As a result of his revelation, the news about his past research and his career in general has begun to spread. The university with which he was associated, and affirmed that he had authorization to make genetic modifications, annulled his story shortly after it became public, and now it seems that the scientist was suspended from his work since February 1, 2018.
He says he used CRIPSR-Cas-9 gene editing technology to modify human embryos to be resistant to HIV. A pair of twins were born from those embryos, according to the scientist. However, the work has not been reviewed by experts and practically had no supervision, which cast doubt on whether it was carried out or not.
A new statement issued by the university condemns the genetic modification if indeed it has been done. The school says it contacted him shortly after the news of his claimed claim began to spread, adding that the institution has formed three opinions on the claims. This is what they said (translated):
First, the research work was carried out outside the school by Associate Professor He Jiankui. He did not inform the school or the biology department, and the school and the biology department did not know about it.
Secondly, for associate professor He Jiankui to use genetic editing technology for research on human embryos, the Academic Committee of the Department of Biology believes that it seriously violates academic ethics and academic standards.
The Southern University of Science and Technology strictly requires that scientific research respect and comply with international academic ethics and academic standards in accordance with national laws and regulations. Our school will immediately hire authorized experts to establish an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after the investigation.
It is increasingly popular to see China as a kind of "wild west" when it comes to medical and scientific activities, with fewer regulations than the United States and much of Europe. That may be true, to some extent, but it is quite clear that many organizations within China maintain ethical standards similar to their counterparts abroad.