China scientist edited human genes "illegally" for own gain: probe

Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 22 2019 01:38 AM

The Chinese scientist who claimed to have made world's first genetically edited baby that is immune to HIV infection had "illegally conducted the research in pursuit of personal fame and gain," Chinese authorities said Monday.

An investigation team of Guangdong Province set up to probe into biologist He Jiankui's claimed success in altering human DNA to prevent HIV infection found that He's research had "avoided supervision, raised funds and organized researchers on his own to carry out the human embryo gene-editing research intended for reproduction, which is banned by Chinese law," the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Preliminary investigation revealed that He had organized his own research team, whose members included foreign personnel, forged ethical certificates to enroll eight pairs of volunteering couples, and instructed his associates to illegally edit genes of embryos and implant them in the women.

"At the end, two volunteers were pregnant, one of them had given birth to twin baby girls and the other was still in pregnancy," the report said. "(The experiment) gravely compromised ethical standards and integrity of scientific research and seriously violated relevant regulations of the state, leaving a vile influence locally and internationally."

The team said He and others involved will be handled by law enforcement agencies while the babies and the pregnant volunteer will be placed under medical observation in Guangdong under the guidance of state authorities.

He had appeared at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last November, explaining to fellow scientists his pet project days after revealing it on video clips posted online, in which he claimed success in editing human embryos' genes to take away the receptor to HIV virus and so give the newborn immunity to the infection.

Only one of the twin girls, however, has immunity against the HIV virus, He said. The girls' physical health and developmental progress will be regularly watched until they grow up, but He admitted that he has no scrutiny over their mental health condition growing up as genetically edited humans.

He vanished afterward and was reported to be under house arrest at a campus quarter of the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he is listed an associate professor in the department of biology on unpaid leave.