China’s National Health Commission (NHC) has ordered Guangdong authorities to investigate a researcher’s claims that he has helped create the world’s first genetically altered babies.
He Jiankui, an academic at the Southern University of Science and Technology in the southern city of Shenzhen, said that he altered the embryos from several couples who were undergoing fertility treatment, claiming one pregnancy has resulted so far. Lulu and Nana, twin girls, have already been born, claimed He.
He said that his goal is not to battle inherited diseases, but create immunity to HIV and AIDS. However, his research has not been independently verified or published in a journal, which would allow other researchers to verify the results through independent experimentation.
The NHC released a statement yesterday (November 26) in response to the mounting attention from the media, saying that it attached great importance to He’s research but has requested local health officials to investigate and verify his claims. It said it would deal with the investigation according to the law and promptly disclose the results to the public.
The NHC is not the only body investigating the gene-editing claims. The Shenzhen City Medical Ethics Expert Board said it would investigate the project, as its sponsors had not filed the proper paperwork. In addition to attention from regulatory bodies, He’s research has drawn the ire of academics. Over 120 scientists issued a joint statement condemning his research.
The statement came from researchers at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Xiamen University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tsinghua University, and Chongqing University, among others. They said that the technology already exists, but other scientists have been put off by its risks and ethical implications.
The group implored Chinese officials to enact strict regulation to ensure that gene editing is done safely and within strict ethical frameworks.