The experiment to make two little girls immune to HIV has not been confirmed. Over 120 scientists condemn the attempt by scientist He Jiankui. Even the university in Shenzhen distances itself from the experiment. The People's Daily first reported the news, then removed it. China and the US are competing in biotechnology research.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Many scientists in China and around the world have dubbed as "crazy", "unethical" and "dangerous" an experiment conducted by Prof He Jiankui that led to the birth of two genetically edited children, with a father with HIV and a mother without it.
He Jiankui (pictured), from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen (SUSTC), announced his experiment in a YouTube video posted online on Monday.
So far, there has been no independent confirmation of the results of the experiment, which has not yet been published in any scientific journal.
Yesterday, the People's Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, first published an online article reporting the news, but later removed it, perhaps because of the avalanche of criticism from all over the world.
SUSTC distanced itself from He in a statement Monday saying that it was unaware of the experiment.
The academic board of the university’s biology department said that the project “seriously violated academic ethics and norms.”
More than 120 researchers signed open letter criticising He, describing his experiment as “crazy”. “The project completely ignored the principles of biomedical ethics, conducting experiments on humans without proving it’s safe,” the letter read.
Experts said using gene-editing to make someone immune to HIV was unnecessary because HIV isn’t transmitted from HIV-positive fathers to their children. It could also create greater risks by making people more prone to other diseases.
Joyce Harper, a professor in genetics and human embryology in the Institute for Women’s Health at University College London said that the announcement made by the team was “premature, dangerous and irresponsible.”
“Before this procedure comes anywhere near clinical practice, we need years of work to show that meddling with the genome of the embryo is not going to cause harm to the future person,” she said.
The trial was approved and conducted by Shenzhen HarMoniCare Women and Children’s Hospital, according to documents submitted by the research team to the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, a database affiliated with the World Health Organisation.
The document suggested that an ethics reviewing committee at the hospital signed the approval paper, but Qin Suji, the former director of medical affairs who left the hospital last month, denied he signed it, saying “the signatures could be fabricated”.
A hospital official said the experiment was not conducted at the hospital. For his part, He Jiankui heads six companies in China, mostly in the genetics sector.
China has been trying to outpace the United States in artificial intelligence and biotech. Last year, it invested US$ 9 billion in expanding its capabilities in both fields.