A preliminary investigation by Guangdong provincial authorities into the saga of the world’s first genetically edited babies found that Chinese biologist He Jiankui, who was with the Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology, had forged blood samples of participating volunteers and their letters of consent.
The probe revealed that He’s human embryo gene-editing research was intended for human reproduction and thus was in contravention of Chinese laws, Xinhua reported on Monday.
The Shenzhen university has terminated He’s employment contract and denied any sponsorship of his morally questionable research.
The provincial government of Guangdong also vowed to pursue the matter, including instructing Guangdong’s public security department and procuratorate to launch a criminal investigation against He and his team members to mete out punitive measures.
It was reported that He had been put under de-facto arrest inside a hotel room in Shenzhen since the end of last year.
He astounded academia with his claim in November that he altered the genes of several human embryos that led to the birth of the world’s first genetically edited twins, Lulu and Nana, who are immune to HIV and AIDS.
Also, in a statement devoid of details, the provincial government noted it would liaise closely with the National Health Commission to monitor the condition of the twin girls as well as a volunteer who fell pregnant with another genetically-edited embryo during He’s experiment.
The expectant mother and the twin girls from the first pregnancy would be put under medical observation and periodical checks, an investigator told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, there have been calls from some Chinese scientists to shield the twin girls and their parents from the glare of the media, like relocating them away from Shenzhen to an undisclosed city where the girls could live in peace.
The People’s Daily quoted experts as saying that the girls were innocent and deserved normal lives, but they also needed regular follow-ups.
Shao Feng, a deputy director of China’s National Institute of Biological Sciences, told Apple Daily that he believed the twin girls must not be told the truth so they could live their lives just like other children.
Shao suggested, however, that medial observations and timely follow-ups by a group of professionals must be provided at least throughout the girls’ childhood and adolescence.
Whether the twin girls can be allowed to get married and raise a family of their own in the future is also a moot point. Some fear that they could have children immune to HIV/AIDS and pass down their altered genes to future generations with unknown consequences.
But Shao was of the view that given time, artificial changes to genes “would eventually be diluted like a drop of ink in an ocean.”