Scientist behind CRISPR twins sharply criticized in government probe, loses job

Science | AAAS | 1/21/2019 | Staff
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He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher who claimed to have edited the genomes of twin baby girls in a heritable way--and earned widespread condemnation for conducting a risky procedure with little potential benefit--deliberately sidestepped regulations, dodged oversight, and used fake ethical review documents in hopes of gaining "personal fame and gain" for a worldwide first, according to preliminary results from a Chinese governmental investigation reported today.

In response to the news, Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen announced it was rescinding He’s contract as an associate professor and terminating his teaching and research activities, effective immediately.

November - Genomes - Embryos - Girls - Descendants

In November, He claimed to have engineered the genomes of early embryos to give the girls and their descendants resistance to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The dubious achievement, which He described at a scientific meeting and in YouTube videos in the wake of media reports, relied on CRISPR, a genome editing technique that has never before been used on human embryos that were then implanted. He’s experiment was swiftly condemned by researchers and ethicists within China and around the world who insisted that safe, effective ways already exist to prevent HIV infection. What’s more, many questions still remain about the CRISPR technology and the potential for it to accidentally cause unwanted, dangerous changes.

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The preliminary findings from an investigation by Guangdong Province, released today through Xinhua, China's government-run news agency, mostly confirm previous suspicions. According to Xinhua, investigators have determined that He gathered funding and set up a research team at a lab outside his university. The researcher recruited volunteers among couples in which only the husband was HIV positive. Under normal practices, such couples are not eligible for IVF treatments in China, Xinhua reported, so He went so...
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