Genome editing summit organizers condemn Chinese scientist’s gene-editing baby claims

Science

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The organizers of a conference where a Chinese scientist claimed to have edited the genes of twin babies condemned the work on Thursday, calling it “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible”.

Scientist He Jiankui attends the International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

“Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms,” the organizing committee of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, being held in Hong Kong this week, said in a statement released by email and posted online.

The statement called for an independent assessment of Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s claims on Wednesday that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born this month.

He’s announcement, which has not been verified, sparked an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.

GRAPHIC: tmsnrt.rs/2ReKG1R

Chinese scientists have condemned the work. Southern University of Science and Technology, where He is on leave from his position as an associate professor, has announced an investigation.

The Guangdong province Health Commission said on its website on Wednesday it and Shenzhen city had set up a team to investigate the case. He’s filing to a Chinese clinical trials database indicates that a hospital did an ethical review of the project, but the hospital involved denied that its ethics review committee ever met to discuss the work.

He said after his presentation on Wednesday he was proud of what he had done.

The presidents of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine (NAM) also expressed concern about He’s work. Their statement was emailed on Thursday but dated on Tuesday.

“The events in Hong Kong this week clearly demonstrate the need for us to develop more specific standards and principles that can be agreed upon by the international scientific community,” NAS president Marcia McNutt and NAM president Victor Dzau wrote.

Reporting By Alexandra Harney; Editing by Paul Tait

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