What happened: The Ministry of Science and Technology, Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and the Southern University of Science and Technology have been revealed as participants in the funding of He Jiankui’s project to genetically modify viable human embryos. The documents contain evidence that, if true, indicates the Chinese government was involved in ethically questionable research, a conclusion that contradicts the results of a joint investigation by the Guangdong provincial health commission, National Health Commission, and science ministry claiming He had little outside support. It is unclear whether the institutions were aware of the extent to which their funds were being used for He’s controversial study.
Why it’s important: News of the birth of genetically modified twins sparked international condemnation for violating ethical norms regarding gene editing human embryos that will be brought to term. While He’s actions were arguably well-intentioned,technology has the potential to be and the implications of its use are not fully understood. News of the Chinese government involvement could further damage the country’s scientific reputation, but members of the community are already looking for ways to prevent this sort of scandal from happening again. Lei Ruipeng, executive director of the Centre for Bioethics at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan said, “China should turn this medical scandal into positive institutional reforms to prevent similar incidents from happening again.” Similarly, Huang Jiefu, China’s former vice minister of health, recently advocated for the formation of an organization to oversee biological experiments like He’s.