Experts condemn science behind Chinese scientist He Jiankui's heinous gene ...

Controversial scientist He Jiankui has been condemned by academics who say his work editing the genes of unborn twin girls was unnecessary, substandard and posed unnecessary risks to the babies. 

Researchers Haoyi Wang and Hui Yang, both well-known experts in the field of gene editing, penned an opinion piece in the well-respected scientific journal Plos One comprehensively dismantling the science behind his work.

They say his procedure was not only morally reprehensible and far beyond the scope of any ethical consideration, but also that his scientific method was lax and took unnecessary risks.

They state in the piece that 'gene-editing early embryos does not provide benefits for the babies, while posing potentially serious risks on multiple fronts.'

The disgraced researcher used gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls nicknamed 'Lulu' and 'Nana'.

Dr He's justification for the experiment was to confer HIV immunity to the embryos to avoid infection from the father, who is HIV positive. 

He has since been fired from his university post and is under investigation from Chinese authorities.  

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He Jiankui speaks during an interview at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province. The Chinese scientist claims he helped make world's first genetically edited babies: Twin girls whose DNA he claims to have altered

He Jiankui speaks during an interview at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province. The Chinese scientist claims he helped make world's first genetically edited babies: Twin girls whose DNA he claims to have altered

The experts argue that Dr He's work was fundamentally misconceived — starting with the fact that, in the circumstances, the gene editing was entirely unnecessary. 

Dr Wang and Dr Yang state the infection could have been avoided during conception by using already well established assisted-reproduction technologies.

Similarly, infection could have been avoided after birth by simply avoiding any potential risks of HIV exposure.

This, they note, 'suffices for most people'.

The gene Dr He edited is called CCR5, and it is involved in regulating the body's immune system. 

Although naturally-occurring mutations in CCR5 have been associated with higher levels of resistance to infection specifically in European populations, these do not block all strains of HIV. 

He sought to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter a cell.

All of the men in the project had HIV and all of the women did not, but the gene editing was not aimed at preventing the small risk of transmission, Dr He said.

Dr He also failed to present a long-term plan to monitor the two children in order to assess the knock-on impact of the procedure, they say. 

The conduct of Dr He and his colleagues, the researchers conclude, 'represents a gross violation of both Chinese regulations and the consensus reached by the international science community.'

'We strongly condemn their actions as extremely irresponsible, both scientifically and ethically,' they added.

The scientist sparked global controversy in November when he announced in a YouTube video what he had done. 

The scientific world and the general public were stunned when Dr He Jiankui released his YouTube video claiming to have successfully created gene edited human twins.

Academics condemned his unethical actions and slammed his procedure, intentions and whimsical approach to morality.

The government halted work at his lab and is carrying out an investigation, saying it would take a 'zero tolerance attitude in dealing with dishonourable behaviour' in research.

Between March 2017 and November 2018, He forged ethical review papers and recruited eight couples to participate in his experiment, resulting in two pregnancies. 

This graphic reveals how, theoretically, an embryo could be 'edited' using the powerful tool Crispr-Cas9 to defend humans against HIV infection

This graphic reveals how, theoretically, an embryo could be 'edited' using the powerful tool Crispr-Cas9 to defend humans against HIV infection

Five others did not result in fertilisation while one opted to leave the experiment.  

It is believed he is under constant watch by armed guards following death threats and imminent legal proceedings.

Punishment for his actions would likely be severe and some have speculated it could result in the death penalty.

William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said: 'China executes more people than any other country in the world, and the country's death penalty system is shrouded in secrecy.

'Suspects often do not have access to lawyers during key phases of the legal process and the use of torture to extract forced confessions is rife.

'In highly politicised cases the trial is often a mere spectacle with the outcome already decided.' 

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.

HOW DID DR HE DESCRIBE THE WORK? 

'The gene editing occurred during IVF, or lab dish fertilisation.

'First, sperm was 'washed' to separate it from semen, the fluid where HIV can lurk.

'A single sperm was placed into a single egg to create an embryo.

'Then the gene editing tool was added.

'When the embryos were three to five days old, a few cells were removed and checked for editing.

'Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts.

'In all, 16 of 22 embryos were edited, and 11 embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved.'

'Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech,' the statement said, adding that the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.

Dr He was trained as a physicist, not a biologist, and was therefore unqualified and likely unable to carry out the research himself.

It is believed he used his own £40 million fortune to fund the project and privately recruited highly-trained scientific professionals to carry out the research. 

Little is known about the research which staggered scientists for its brazen flaunting of every rule and guideline on ethics and legality in genetics. 

The whereabouts of the Chinese researcher have been a mystery since November. Reports claimed He was

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