Shenzhen, China – China has suspended He Jiankui, the scientist who claims to have produced the first babies released by genes in the world and now seems to face the punishment after publicly disclosing many investigations into the scientific community convicted as irresponsible.
The work was "extremely abominable in nature," said Xi Nanping, deputy minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, reported Thursday to the Xinhua state agency.
Some said genetically engineered the DNA of twin girls so they did not develop HIV violated scientific ethics, adding that the editing of human embryonic genes for breeding purposes was "explicitly forbidden" in China.
He admitted in a day of gene editing in Hong Kong on Wednesday that he had already begun another pregnancy, although it was too early to know if he would be in full swing.
|An embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a sperm injection microscope in a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
One source confirmed to Al Jazeera that he returned to Shenzhen, although the repeated calls to his cell phone were not answered and several messages sent to the phone were read without response.
David Cyranoski of Nature magazine published in the social media that was in the southern city and ready to "cooperate fully with all the questions" about his work.
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The scientist may face a series of questions from institutions in Shenzhen, as well as from the Ministry of Science and Technology. The National Health Commission of China said that the activities it would carry out would be to investigate and that any "resolutely treated" error, according to Xinhua.
The punishment it can not face since the law in China is vague about the application, according to Qiu Renzong, emeritus professor at the Institute of Philosophy and director of the Applied Ethics Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The investigation launched shock waves through the international scientific community, with many concerns about the lack of verified data and the risks of squeezing healthy embryos for gene editing. Scientists have long been concerned about the implications for humanity of such genetic engineering.
R Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said that the trial in the United States had "been in violation of public law" and would imply "sanctions" [that] are civilians and criminals "due to the necessary approvals through the Food and Drug Administration for human cells and therapy studies where the cells are taken to gestation.
The police involvement?
Qiu noticed in Hunan province in 2012, three investigators were arrested and subsequently sacked along with three officers who approved tests of a genetically modified rice in vitamin A in schoolchildren without their consent.
"Three scientists were disciplined, they were fired from their positions and could not apply for subsidies during a certain period of time, for that reason [He’s case] It may be similar to this, "said Qiu to Al Jazeera." I do not think the police are involved, but the ministries will discipline him. "
He said that in a video released on Sunday – the same day the world learned from births – he used the CRISPR – cas9 tool to edit embryos to eliminate the possibility that babies get their father's HIV, which is infected with the virus.
The anthropologist Eben Kirksey commented that CRISPR has become a magic word related to HIV due to the promise that "you just need to have treatment once." But, he added, there were many other promising therapies for the treatment of HIV, and did not believe that many in the HIV research community "made a lot of hope" in the genetic edition.
|Researcher Zhou Xiaoqin, on the left, carries Cas9 proteins and sgRNA PCSK9 molecules in a fine glass pipette in the He Jiankui laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
He gave a partial apology in front of an auditorium packed in the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, although the contrition seemed to be more so that information on births left before their research had been evaluated by the scientific community, instead of to carry it out.
The scientist told delegates that he was "proud" of his work, adding that if the same situation happened and that he was his son, he would "prove first".
Most other researchers believe it was too early to move to that point given the great ethical questions that arise from having "edited" – such as Lulu and Nana, the names they gave to twin girls – and "unedited" human beings that live next.
"Would it not be useful to try to define an ethical code of global conduct, at least a minimum of consent and what is the investigation and what is the norm?" asked Barbel Friedrich, director of the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald. "What we heard this morning was a violation of the law that he admitted, but what we need is a global rule."
The institutions deny the knowledge
Along the border in Shenzhen, institutions are distanced from Him.
The Shenzhen Health and Family Commission has directed the city's medical experts committee to investigate the activities it performs.
The University of South of Science and Technology, where he is an associate professor, is said to have carried out the research without the full knowledge of the university, closed his laboratory and suspended waiting for an investigation. The genome research website related to the work of It now seems to be inaccessible.
|An investigator adjusts a microplate that contains embryos that were injected with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
When Al Jazeera visited the researcher's lab, located on an extensive campus in a university center in the northern part of Shenzhen, security officers refused entry, complaining about means trying to visit the site. Officials from the communication department at the school did not respond to the requests to discuss the research on the research activities of El.
On the front door, a police van was stationed along the road, with its blue and red flashing lights.
Shenzhen Harmonicare Women and Children's Hospital, where the fertilization allegedly occurred, now denies participation in El's work and said that he believes that a signature in the papers that approved the experiment were falsified. Attempts to reach officials in the hospital for more explanations were not successful.
"We do not know if this was manufactured," said Qiu of the newspapers. "Some scientists, for other reasons, these young scientists want to make a lot of money."