News broke yesterday of a Chinese scientist who claims to have edited the genes of human embryos which were then carried to full term. The man, He Jiankui, made the claims ahead of a genetic technology conference, and his alleged work drew swift criticism from many other medical researchers who find human genetic modification to be both dangerous and unethical.
In the wake of his revelation, news about He’s past research and overall career has begun to trickle out. The university He associated himself with, and claimed he had clearance from to conduct genetic modification, shot down his story shortly after it became public, and now it seems the scientist was actually suspended from his job as far back as February 1, 2018.
He claims that he used CRIPSR-Cas-9 gene editing technology to modify human embryos to be resistant to HIV. A pair of twins was born from those embryos, according to the scientist. However, the work has not been peer reviewed and had virtually zero oversight, casting doubt on whether or not it was actually carried out.
A new statement issued by the university condemns the genetic modification if it indeed has been done. The school notes that it contacted He shortly after the news of his claimed achievement began to spread, adding that the institution has formed three opinions about the claims. Here’s what they said (translated):
First, the research work was carried out outside the school by Associate Professor He Jiankui. He did not report to the school and the department of biology, and the school and the biology department did not know about it.
Second, for Associate Professor He Jiankui to use genetic editing technology for human embryo research, the Academic Committee of the Department of Biology believes that it seriously violates academic ethics and academic norms.
The Southern University of Science and Technology strictly requires scientific research to abide by and comply with international academic ethics and academic norms in accordance with national laws and regulations. Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after investigation.
It’s increasingly popular to view China as a sort of “wild west” when it comes to medical and scientific pursuits, with fewer regulations than the United States and much of Europe. That may be true, to a point, but it’s abundantly clear that many organizations within China maintain similar ethical standards to their counterparts abroad.