China's gene-edited babies are real, and one more is on the way
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China's gene-edited babies are real, and one more is on the way

Beijing: A second Chinese woman is pregnant with a "gene-edited" baby and is being medically supervised by local authorities, a Chinese government investigation has revealed.

He Jiankui at a laboratory in Shenzhen, China.

He Jiankui at a laboratory in Shenzhen, China.Credit:AP

Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the science world when he revealed the existence of baby twins, born to fathers carrying HIV, who had been altered genetically to make them HIV resistant.

Authorities in Guangdong province moved swiftly to investigate the claims amid a worldwide backlash. On Monday investigators announced their preliminary findings, confirming that out of eight couples who took part in He's research, two had become pregnant.

The researcher is likely to face criminal charges. The investigation found that He had "defied government bans and conducted the research in the pursuit of personal fame and gain".

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He and others involved in the project would "receive punishment according to laws and regulations", Chinese state news agency Xinhua quoted the investigators as saying.

"Those who are suspected of committing crimes will be transferred to the public security department".

His employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said on Monday He had been sacked, and all of his teaching and research activities terminated.

According to Xinhua, the investigation found He had "intentionally dodged supervision, raised funds and organised researchers on his own to carry out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction, which is explicitly banned by relevant regulations".

He assembled a team that included some international researchers in June 2016, and used a fake ethical review certificate to recruit the HIV positive couples and offer them assisted reproduction.

The gene-editing experiments on human embryos, began in March 2017, using "technologies without safety and effectiveness guarantee".

To overcome a ban on HIV carriers undergoing assisted reproduction, He asked other people to take blood tests in the place of the HIV-positive fathers.

The existence of twin girls Lulu and Nana was revealed by He on the eve of an international gene editing conference in Hong Kong in November 2018.

Xinhua reported that the other couple "is still pregnant".

"The babies and the pregnant volunteer will receive medical observation and follow-up visits."

He was recruited back to China after completing his PhD at Stanford University.

Kirsty Needham is China Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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