Chinese researcher behind genetically edited babies is now under investigation and suspended without pay

He Jiankui, unknown until on Monday, is an associate professor at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology of China.

The Guangdong province-based researcher has claimed he has created a gene-editing tool CRISPR on embryos of seven different couples during IVF treatment, resulting in the birth of twin girls this month.

Business Insider has reported that CRISPR is a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit sections of DNA, numerous researchers have a keen interest in  using the technology to eliminate or treat genetic diseases.

Jiankui claims, that two newborn twin girls are now immune to the HIV virus, with the help of  CRISPR edited DNA.

The Associated Press report, said He Jiankui claimed that the father had the disease and the mother did not. His main goal was to alter the babies’ genes in a way that would protect them from future HIV infection.

The university has distanced itself from Jiankui claims, saying that the associate professor had been on unpaid leave since 1 February 2018 and he is only set to return until January 2021.

The reason for his leave was due Jiankui “seriously violated academic ethics and norms.”

“Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after investigation,” SUSTC said in the statement.

Jiankui has also not received support from his own colleagues, with more than 120 Chinese scientists signing a letter condemning his claims.

“The project completely ignored the principles of biomedical ethics, conducting experiments on humans without proving it’s safe,” said Qiu Zilong, a neuroscience researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai who wrote the letter.

“We can only describe such behaviour as crazy.”

Photo credit- Ars Technica

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