Chinese researcher claims to have made the first CRISPR-edited babies

He Jiankui

He Jiankui, a Stanford University alumnus, now working at a laboratory in Shenzhen, made the announcement on Wednesday on the fringes of an worldwide conference in Hong Kong.

The Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies said Wednesday the trial had been paused, following an global outcry over the highly controversial procedure.

Gene editing could potentially help avoid heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos. In previous discussions of how gene editing could potentially be used, many scientists have agreed that it should be applied only to prevent serious genetic disorders without alternative treatments.

He argued in his conference talk that the editing he did on the embryos of the newborn twin girls and on the third embryo-which, if successful, would confer resistance to HIV infection-is akin to a vaccine, the AP reports.

He was absent from the opening ceremony of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing held at the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday morning.

Prof He also said that the study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal.

He's claim would "be considered irresponsible", Baltimore said.

Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that proceeding with germ-line editing in this way was "irresponsible" and criticized He for not being more open.

Despite the blowback, the beleaguered scientist continued to insist that he is "proud" of the experiment, which he funded himself.

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The National Health Commission has already said Prof He's work "seriously violates China's laws, regulations and ethical standards" and would investigate the claims.

He claimed he used a technique called CRISPR/Cas9, which, if true, would be the first time the technique has been used to alter genes in unborn humans.

"It is shocking and unacceptable", Xu Nanping, a vice-minister for science and technology, said on Thursday.

But former Chinese health ministry official Qiu Renzong said lax regulations in China mean that scientists who break the rules often face no punishment. "I feel proudest", he told his peers at the conference, because the twin subjects' father "thought he had lost hope for life." .

He said Wednesday that all the couples involved in his study consented and directed people to his website, where he provided an example of the consent form, which described the study as an "AIDS vaccine development project".

The founder of an HIV support group reported to be based in Beijing said Thursday that he regretted introducing families to He for the trial, according to Hong Kong media.

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

"It would be really unfortunate.to have the world looking at the first two genome-edited children because think of the pressure that's going to put them under", said Lovell-Badge.

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