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Man behind DNA-edited babies under investigation, suspended



He Jiankui


  • The Chinese researcher who claims to have led the creation of
    the world’s first genetically edited human babies, has been
    suspended without pay since February.
  • His unverified claims of leading the team behind genetically edited human
    has attracted fierce condemnation for
    breaching medical ethics — and possibly the law.
  • The researcher, He Jiankui, is now also being investigated by
    his university.

He Jiankui, largely unknown until
, is an associate professor at Shenzhen’s Southern
University of Science and Technology of China (南方科技大学 or SUSTC).

The Guangdong province-based researcher said he used gene-editing tool CRISPR on
embryos of seven different couples during IVF treatment,
resulting in the birth of twin girls this month.

CRISPR is a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit
sections of DNA. Many researchers are interested in using the technology to eliminate
or treat genetic diseases
, as Business Insider has previously

The result He claims, was newborn twin girls, who have been
bestowed with immunity to HIV through CRISPR edited DNA.

According to an Associated Press report, He Jiankui
said the father had the disease and the mother did not. He said
his ultimate goal was to alter the babies’ genes in a way that
would protect them from future HIV infection.

The Shenzhen university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday that
said the researcher had been on unpaid leave from February 1,
2018 and was not expected to return until January 2021.

He’s academic board said He had “seriously violated academic
ethics and norms.”

“Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up
an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and
publish relevant information after investigation,” SUSTC said in
the statement.

Read more:

A Chinese researcher claims that the first gene-edited babies
have been born, and scientists are disturbed

Caixin reports
that He also heads six companies in China,
mostly in the genetics sector.

When contacted by the Chinese magazine, a representative of
Shenzhen Hanhai Genetic Biology Technology Co. Ltd. — one of the
companies He runs — refused to say if they were aware of the
project, but told Caixin the experiment was not conducted on
their premises.

The experiment has in no way been verified or published in any
academic journal.

China’s state-run People’s Daily published an online article
about it on Monday but later removed the story.

There has been a follow up article in the English
language version of the Communist Party mouthpiece
distancing itself from the controversy.

If it is true, the experiment is deeply controversial.

Gene-editing of this nature is illegal in many countries
including the United States and according to Caixin, such
experimentation is also banned by a Chinese regulators.

More than 120 Chinese scientists signed a letter condemning the
claim by He.

“The project completely ignored the principles of biomedical
ethics, conducting experiments on humans without proving it’s
safe,” said Qiu Zilong, a neuroscience researcher with the
Chinese Academy of Sciences (中国科学) in Shanghai who wrote the

“We can only describe such behaviour as crazy.”

According to the
South China Morning Post
, the letter was published on social
media on late Monday and was signed by scientists at some of
China’s leading research universities, such as Peking University
and Tsinghua, as well as overseas institutions, including
Stanford in the US and Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology
and Research.

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