The Chinese government has stopped a controversial project that helped produce the world's first gene-edited babies, declaring the work of scientist He Jiankui as unlawful and unethical.
Gene-Edited Twins Resistant To HIV
He, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, claimed that he used the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 to modify human embryos.
The resulting gene-edited babies, twins who were born earlier this month, have altered DNA that makes them resistant to HIV.
He's work was condemned by ethicists and the scientific community. He was accused of experimenting on humans with an unproven and potentially dangerous technology, as the changes made on the babies could be passed on to future generations.
Despite this, He made no apologies and even said that he is proud of his work.
Amid the backlash, universities and government groups conducted an investigation. On Thursday, the Chinese government ordered to stop the work.
Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping said that his ministry strongly opposes the work and called the actions of the medical team behind the project as illegal and unacceptable.
Xu said that the experiment has crossed the line of morality and ethics that the academic community adheres to and described the work as shocking and unacceptable. He also said that a probe into the work had been ordered but did not discuss the specific actions taken.
Statement From The Scientific Community
China's response to the controversy came the same week scientists convened in Hong Kong for an international summit on gene editing.
The summit organizers issued a statement after He announced his work on Monday. They called for an independent assessment to verify that the claimed DNA modifications have indeed occurred.
"If the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms," the statement reads.
"Its flaws include an inadequate medical indication, a poorly designed study protocol, a failure to meet ethical standards for protecting the welfare of research subjects, and a lack of transparency in the development, review, and conduct of the clinical procedures."