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expert reaction to reports of the Chinese authority’s investigation into He Jiankui

Reactions to reports of the Chinese authority’s investigation into He Jiankui.

Dr Lydia Teboul, Head of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Mary Lyon Centre, MRC Harwell, said:

“Yesterday’s news is the expected consequence of any clinical research that would be led outside of the legal framework to establish ethical authorisations.

“Going forward, it is essential that these events do not trigger a wholesale rejection of the genome editing technology as a basis of clinical tools.

“With the right application and the appropriate controls, the CRISPR/Cas9 system still holds many opportunities in clinic. Some, aiming to change the genetic code of specific organs after birth or in late gestation, are already a tangible promise and pause mainly questions of technical nature. Others, that would change the genetic code of an entire individual and their future children, must be widely debated among all parts of societies worldwide before they can be legally envisaged.”

Prof Julian Savulescu, Director of Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, said:

“The response  to reckless human experimentation has to go way beyond Dr He’s dismissal. This is not merely a failure of compliance, Dr He failed to grasp the ethical principles and concepts he was vigorously espousing.  There will undoubtedly be more guidelines and laws on gene editing but we also need basic education of the next generation of scientists in what ethics is and why this kind of behaviour is wrong. This was not a failure of science, or even regulation, but ethics.

“More important than He’s fate is the future for those victims affected. The couples and babies will need world class medical management and counselling. The second couple carrying a gene edited pregnancy should have already been fully informed of and understood the risks to their fetus and given the free choice to continue or terminate their pregnancy. ”

Sarah Norcross, Director, Progress Educational Trust (PET), said:

“Given the potential impact of Dr He’s actions on the international research and medical community, a scrupulous and transparent investigation is necessary. These initial findings by Chinese authorities are welcome, but further work will be needed to provide adequate answers to the questions other scientists have, and to help ensure that researchers everywhere in the world can make progress in this field while adhering to higher scientific and ethical standards than were evident here.”

James Lawford-Davies, Partner, Hill Dickinson, said:

“According to Chinese state media, these are preliminary findings from an on-going investigation. While the findings may not change, it is in the interests of both the global scientific community and Professor He that this investigation is fair, objective and transparent, and that the final full report and findings are made public.”

Dr Christophe Galichet, Senior Laboratory Research Scientist, The Francis Crick Institute, said:

“Chinese official have conducted an investigation on the claim Dr.He has made.  Back in November, Dr.He and his team, claimed to have generated genetically modified embryos and implanted them back to the mother which led to the birth of twin girls. Since Dr. He’s claims, the international scientific community has condemned He’s research on the ground of ethics and safety issues.

“Chinese officials have launched an investigating team led by the Health Commission of China in Southern Guandong province, province where Dr.He did his research. I did not read the official report from the Chinese officials and my comments are based on a Reuter and rthk articles.

“First of all, Chinese authorities have stopped Dr.He’s research so no more edited embryos could be used for the purpose of reproduction. Dr.He had deliberately evaded oversight from peers with the intent in creating genome editing babies according to the Chinese authority’s initial finding.  Furthermore, Chinese authorities found that Dr.He has forged ethical review papers so volunteers could be enrol in his research, clearly indicating that Dr.He knew that what he was doing was not ethical. Dr He carry out the creation of genome editing babies most likely to seek personal fame and possibly for profit.

“The findings from Chinese official are only initial and it is likely that more details will come to light in due course.  What the initial report from Chinese authorities indicate is that Dr. He created genome editing embryos leading to pregnancy knowing that it was unethical. The investigating team clearly indicate that Dr.He has violated ethic and scientific integrity as well as local regulations causing outcry locally, nationally and internationally.

“Dr.He fooled Chinese authorities, peers and international scientific community for personal fame.”

Dr Yalda Jamshidi, Reader in Genomic Medicine, St George’s, University of London (SGUL), said:

“It now appears following investigations by the Chinese authorities, that as many had feared, the experiments that led to the birth of the gene-edited twins Lulu and Nana, resulted from a series of poor decisions, avoidance of regulatory and ethical frameworks, lack of scientific integrity, and most likely a quest for fame and fortune by scientist He Jiankui. Unsurprisingly, the experiments have been met with heavy criticism, particularly as the procedures used have not been tested for safety in humans, and were not carried out for any real medical need. The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community that gene editing, like all potentially new medical interventions, will only be allowed where they address a true medical need, and with appropriate ethical and regulatory oversight.”

Dr Helen O’Neill, Programme Director, Reproductive Science and Women’s Health, University College London (UCL), said:

“The reports do not shed much in the way of new light on the story. There is no further clarification on what measures will be taken to prevent this happening in future, nor what will be done as punishment for He Jiankui’s lack of regard for policy, the patients and the scientific community.”

Declared interests

Lydia Teboul: “No conflict of interest.”

Sarah Norcross: “Progress Educational Trust is a charity which aims to improve choices for those affected by genetic conditions and infertility. No conflict”

Helen O’Neill: “No conflicts/nothing to declare”

Christophe Galichet: “I declare no conflict of interest”

None Others Received

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