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Chinese scientist behind ‘gene-edited-babies’ claim pauses trial after public outcry

Chinese scientist behind ‘gene-edited-babies’ claim pauses trial after public outcry
A Chinese scientist who claimed he had edited babies’ genes to resist HIV said the trial is being paused. He revealed, however, that a second pregnancy is underway. The experiment prompted a global outcry over its ethical limits.

“I must apologize, this result was leaked unexpectedly,” He Jiankui told a Hong Kong medical conference on Wednesday, as cited by AFP.

He said that “the clinical trial was paused due to the current situation.” The scientific world has been abuzz over He’s announcement that he had rewritten the very blueprint of life, saying that ethical standards must be upheld.

However, He maintained his research was valid, saying that he feels proud of what he had done with the girls’ genes. “For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest,” he told his peers at the conference, because the twin subjects’ father “thought he had lost hope for life.” He disclosed that a second gene-altered pregnancy is currently underway, AP reported.

READ MORE: Designer baby steps: World’s first ‘gene-edited’ children born in China

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. 

He chose the HIV virus because it has become a serious problem in China, with between 500,000 and 1.5 million people infected.

READ MORE: Down with dads? Researchers spawn healthy mice from 2 mothers

Following He’s revelations, Chinese authorities denounced his work and ordered a probe into his trials. Over a hundred Chinese researchers also signed a statement dubbing the experiment “crazy.” The Southern University of Science and Technology, where He works, distanced itself from him and called the research a “serious violation of academic ethics and norms,” adding that he has been on unpaid leave since February.

Criticism didn’t come only from China. Scientists from across the globe lambasted He’s experiment. According to Feng Zhang, a molecular biologist from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the results of the trials were not “handled in a transparent way.”  “This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit,” Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, UK, said

However, there were some who defended He’s meddling with the human genome. Bioengineering Professor Michael Deem, who was the scientist’s adviser when he studied in the US, toldAP that he “absolutely” thinks the participants of the trials were fully aware of the risks involved.

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