He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.
The Southern University of Science and Technology strictly requires scientific research to abide by and comply with global academic ethics and academic norms in accordance with national laws and regulations.
Baltimore noted that scientists had agreed that it would be irresponsible to try to create genetically modified babies until there was much more research to make sure it was necessary and safe, and a consensus had been reached it was prudent. There was no independent confirmation of He's work and he did not provide written documentation of his research.
"The patients were given a consent form that falsely stated this was an AIDS vaccine trial, and which conflated research with therapy by claiming they were "likely" to benefit", Charo said. In simple terms, the idea is to change the genetic content of cells so a disease in a living person is halted or prevented, or so it is not passed on to future generations.
In this October 9, 2018 photo, Zhou Xiaoqin adjusts a monitor showing a video feed of a fine glass pipette containing Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA to an embryo under a microscope at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.
In interviews, He Jiankui defended his work. Using a technique called CRISPR-Cas9, the gene responsible for allowing HIV to infect the body was altered to mimic a natural genetic variation in some humans that confers strong resistance to the virus.
The twin girls, known by the pseudonyms Lulu and Nana, were healthy and at home with their parents, He said.
"The implications for cowboy-style "researchers" taking experiments into their own hands risk damaging the already fragile relationship between science and society".
According to the South China Morning Post, the letter was published on social media on late Monday and was signed by scientists at some of China's leading research universities, such as Peking University and Tsinghua, as well as overseas institutions, including Stanford in the United States and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
He Jiankui, who goes by "JK", studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies. University officials said they had no knowledge of his research and had launched an investigation.
A spokesman for He said he has been on leave from teaching since early this year but remains on the faculty and has a lab at the university. But he remains an employee and still works in the laboratory.
China's National Health Commission has also ordered an investigation.
Zhang says gene editing is still fairly new, with technical challenges and ethical questions that still need to be addressed.
In this October 9, 2018 photo, Lin Zhitong speaks during an interview in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.
On Thursday, the organising committee of the summit will present a report summarising on how to carry forward the development of gene editing.
They include Feng Zhang and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a powerful but simple new tool called CRISPR-cas9 that reportedly was used on the Chinese babies during fertility treatments when they were conceived. The problem that many have with what He has done is that offspring down the road can inherit genetic modifications made to sperm, eggs, or embryos. Such experimentation is illegal in the USA and some other nations.
Under Canada's Human Reproduction Act, such germ-line editing is illegal and could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
"Furthermore, we must protect against the trivial editing of genes for traits like physical appearance, athletic ability or musical aptitude", Mitchell, Graves Professor or Moral Philosophy at Union University, said via email. Ltd. - one of the companies He runs - refused to say if they were aware of the project, but told Caixin the experiment was not conducted on their premises.
The enthusiasm stems from gene editing's potential to help better understand diseases, and to prevent or treat certain illnesses.