CRISPR Babies: The Chinese Government May Have Known More Than It Let On

When scientist He Jiankui announced he’d conducted an experiment that led to the birth of twin girls with CRISPR-edited genomes in November, the international scientific community swiftly condemned him. In the uproar that followed, the Chinese government, He’s university, and the hospital where the babies were born distanced themselves from the researcher, who claimed he was the first scientist known to use CRISPR to edit human embryos resulting in a live birth — and that a third CRISPR baby was on the way.

But there were also glaring inconsistencies in the official version of events. As the Washington Post reported, a hospital executive appeared on camera in an Associated Press video applauding He’s work, which seemed strange given that the hospital later denounced him. And an informed consent form He used stated that his university funded the experiment. . .

Shortly after He announced his experiment, China’s National Health Commission ordered an investigation of He’s research. In January, an initial government report found that He “seriously violated” state laws in pursuit of “personal fame and fortune.” His university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, fired him and said his experiment was done “outside of the school.” . . .

Overall, He has been painted in the media — including in China — as a rogue actor and bad apple, tinkering quietly in a lab while smashing through norms and local laws to feed his ego. He also claimed that he privately funded the work while on unpaid leave from his job as a professor.

But according to a slide presentation, the clinical trials registry, and patient consent forms obtained by journalist Jane Qiu for Stat, three Chinese government institutions were listed as the funders of He’s experiment: the Ministry of Science and Technology (the nation’s federal science agency), the Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and Southern University of Science and Technology, where He was a professor. (Read more from “CRISPR Babies: The Chinese Government May Have Known More Than It Let On” HERE)

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