Beijing: China's science ministry has ordered that people involved in the controversial baby gene-editing experiment halt their activities, a government official told state media Thursday.
The ministry "firmly opposes the baby gene-editing incident and has already demanded that the relevant organisation suspend the scientific activities of relevant personnel," a ministry official said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The move comes after global outrage over Chinese researcher He Jiankui's claim that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.
The National Health Commission is investigating the claims, according to a report by news agency AFP.
"The experiment "seriously violates" China's laws, regulations, and ethical standards if it indeed occurred as reported by media," said Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, in an interview with CCTV published on its website Thursday.
He Jiankui of Shenzhen said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus, according to Associated Press.
Interestingly, a U.S. scientist said he took part in the work in China, as this kind of gene editing is banned in the United States because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes.
He's experiment has also prompted criticism from the international and domestic scientific community, with some denouncing it as premature and dangerous. The founder of an HIV support group reported to be based in Beijing said Thursday that he regretted introducing families to He for the trial, according to local media.
Bai Hua, the group's head, said he had introduced 50 families to He's team.
"In the beginning we did not understand what it was they were really doing. Actually right now my personal feeling is that they are a bit crazy," he told RTHK.
Bai added that he had spoken to two of the families involved in the trial and questioned whether the risks and ethical issues had been fully explained to them.
"The team all along emphasised that the chance of success was high, and that there were risks, but they were low," he told RTHK.
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