Scientist behind gene editing claims second pregnancy under way

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The country's vice minister of science and technology, Xu Nanping, told state media outlet CCTV that the government was opposed to what He had done and said an investigation would soon be underway.

Church and Musunuru questioned the decision to allow one of the embryos to be used in a pregnancy attempt, because the Chinese researchers said they knew in advance that both copies of the intended gene had not been altered.

Early this week He Jiankui, a researcher at Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology, claimed to have used the CRISPR-CaS9 genome-editing tool to alter several couples' embryos to be immune to HIV, which he says successfully resulted in the birth of twin girls this month.

Last week, He Jiankui claimed that twin girls whose father is HIV positive were born resistant to the virus after he switched off a certain gene.

The ministry was also quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying: "The nature of this incident is extremely nasty, and relevant bodies have been ordered to temporarily halt the scientific research activities of relevant personnel".

There is not yet independent confirmation of his claim, but scientists and regulators have been swift to condemn the experiment as unethical and unscientific. The National Health Commission has ordered local officials to investigate his actions.

While most scientists have reacted with dismay to the experiments, some researchers in China are anxious that the intervention by the National Health Commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology could lead to overregulation that might stifle any hope of advances by their country in biotechnologies.

He was unrepentant during a talk at the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong Wednesday, saying that his aim was to help HIV/AIDS patients have healthy babies.

He, however, declined to reveal the babies' identities, citing China's policy regarding privacy in cases involving HIV/AIDS.

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"Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with global norms", the organizers said in the summit's consensus statement that is usually seen as setting the tone and direction for the fast-changing field.

Since Deem is an American scientist at an NIH grantee institution, Collins said, the agency has requested additional information from the university.

But He's research has raised serious ethical questions around the transparency of gene editing and sparked calls for a globally binding code of conduct.

"We care deeply about the two babies and appeal for the research and formulation of detailed medical and ethical care plans", it said.

According to The Guardian, He said that he wanted to prevent HIV being inherited from a parent because so many children were affected by the virus in China.

Professor He was supposed to speak at the summit again Thursday but disappeared from the schedule.

Facing a packed auditorium of scientists and members of the media, He also acknowledged that he had not made his university in China aware of the research he was doing. He's research was the status of a possible pregnancy of a second woman he said he had implanted with an edited embryo. "I personally don't think it was medically necessary".

A 23-page English translation of an informed consent form for the potential mother said that the costs of the procedure covered by the team would be up to 280,000 yuan (US$40,200) per couple.

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