Because of the surprising news last November that one of its scientists created altered babies’ DNA, China revealed draft regulations for clinical research involving gene editing and other “high-risk biomedical technologies.” Though some researchers agree to tighten oversight, there are worries because those the rules could limit not so controversial genetic researches.
According to the proposed measures issued last Tuesday, a technology involving gene editing, gene transfer, and gene regulation would be classified as “high-risk” and would be managed by the Health Department of the State Council.
Dr. He Jiankui proclaimed last November at a conference in Hong Kong that he had genetically edited twin girls using the CRISPR-cas9 tool to make them more resistant to HIV.
In response to the announcement, over 100 scientists from all over the globe have signed a protest letter, condemning the project on gene-editing technology on humans. The Chinese government also rapidly denounced Dr. He and started an investigation that showed an image of a rebel scientist who “defied government bans in pursuit of personal fame and gain”. All this made his employer (SUSTech) terminate his contract and ending any of his teaching and research activities.
In addition, using technology for Gene Editing for reproductive purposes is banned in the U.S. and the vast majority of Europe. In China, government guidelines prohibit research on embryos “violates ethical or moral principles.” Ethical instructions published in 2003 say gene editing is permitted for research, with the condition that experimental embryo cannot be nurtured for more than 14 days.
He Jiankui said he edited the babies’ genes at conception to make them resistant to the AIDS virus since their father is HIV positive. He said his goal was to fix the DNA before birth so humans can be immune to HIV during their lifetime.
Thus, scientists all over the globe are trying to define how to prevent and avoid these experiments from happening again. China’s former vice minister of health Huang Jiefu proposed that the country should create an organization to superintend biomedical projects. The World Health Organization, for example, recently designated a committee to look into guidelines for editing DNA in humans.
For now, lots of questions remain about what’s next for Dr. He and how the twins will fare. He also admitted the twins’ embryos were not the only ones, he said there were more cases. Until now it is not clear when these other babies will be born.
Sources: Sciencemag.org, BBC, Washington Post, QZ.com, Statnews.com