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Rice University Professor Michael Deem Under Investigation For Role In Birth Of Gene-Edited Babies

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Rice University has launched an investigation to see if one of its professors had a hand in the controversial project that led to the birth of the world's first gene-edited babies. Who is Michael Deem?  ( Pixabay )

Rice University is investigating one of its professors whose name surfaced in media reports of a controversial project that led to the birth of the world's first gene-edited babies.

He Jianku's Adviser

Chinese researcher He Jianku claimed on Monday that he used CRISPR-Cas9 to help produce genetically edited twin girls who were born earlier this month.

Michael Deem attested that He's claim is not a hoax because he met the parents of the babies and that he was in China when they gave their consent.

Deem was the Chinese researcher's adviser at Rice University for more than three years. He has also worked with He after the latter returned to China. The bioengineering professor has worked on immune system modulation, influenza vaccine efficacy, and HIV at Rice University.

"Of course the work occurred," Deem said. "I met the parents. I was there for the informed consent of the parents."

The extent of Deem's involvement in the project is not clear but he has published three papers with He. He also has a small stake in two of He's companies.

Ethical Issues Of Producing Genetically Edited Babies

Scientists and ethicists expressed their outrage that babies with edited DNA had been born. Editing the genome of embryos is controversial since the changes could be passed on to future generations.

Editing the genome of embryos is banned in the United States and while Deem said that he worked in the project with He in China, Rice University said that the work still raises scientific and ethical questions.

The university added that the work violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with its ethical norms and the scientific community.

Investigations

The university said that it has launched an investigation to determine if Deem had a hand in the research. China's National Health Commission and the Southern University of Science and Technology are also conducting a probe into the research.

"Regardless of where it was conducted, this work as described in press reports violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University," the school said.

He is set to present his work at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

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