Chinese scientist He Jiankui faced backlash worldwide following his revelation that he created the world's first gene-edited babies using CRISPR.
Funding Sources Of CRISPR Babies Research
Authorities in China have denounced the work, but a new report suggests the controversial research may have actually been financially supported by the Chinese government.
Documents reviewed by the medical news site STAT suggest the work was funded by three different government institutions in China, which include the Chinese science ministry.
The documents included a slide presentation He's team prepared, patient consent forms, and China's clinical trial registry. They listed three funding sources for the study that led to the birth of twin girls Lulu and Nana.
These were China's Ministry of Science and Technology, the Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and the Southern University of Science and Technology.
If the documents prove correct, this could support suspicions of researchers who think He did not pursue the experiment without the support of the Chinese government.
"I don't think He Jiankui could have done it without the government encouragement to press ahead," said bioethicist Jing-Bao Nie, from the University of Otago in New Zealand.
This also suggests China is supporting research that other countries consider unethical as well as raise doubts about the preliminary conclusion of a government investigation that He acted on his own.
The investigation determined He raised funding for the research on his own without official endorsement. It also concluded the scientist forged an informed-consent form as well as violated scientific ethics and Chinese regulations.
"They want him to be the scapegoat, so everybody else can be vindicated. But this would disguise serious institutional failures," Nie added.
It is not clear, though, if the institutions were aware how their grants would be used. Scientists who apply for grants in China usually itemize in detail how they intend to use the money. It is possible that for the CRISPR babies study, He used money given to his lab for an earlier research on CRISPR technology that did not involve pregnancies.