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Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

A university in China has severed ties with the scientist who rattled researchers a year ago after he claimed to have engineered the world's first gene-edited babies.

The investigation team in Guangdong province tasked with looking into He's claims announced on Monday that the Stanford-trained scientist had deliberately avoided supervision, even forging ethical review papers, while organizing and conducting research into human embryo gene-editing for the objective of reproduction that was illegal as well as of "an uncertain safety level".

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTC) in Shenzhen ended He Jiankui's employment after government investigators concluded that the scientist's experiment violated regulations and may incur criminal repercussions.

The scientific community was shocked past year after a researcher from Shenzhen He Jiankui announced in an interview with the AP news agency that he had successfully altered the genes of twin girls born in November, in order to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Prof He's claims had not been verified, but investigators confirmed on Monday that his work had resulted in the birth of twin babies, and that another woman was now pregnant.

"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.

Experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could harm not only to an individual but also to future generations who inherit these same changes.

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Photos captured the disgraced professor on a balcony in an apartment block on the sprawling campus, but he has not made a public appearance since defending his actions in Hong Kong, at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28, 2018.

There has been no independent verification of his claim, first reported by The Associated Press, and it has not yet been published, although He gave details at an worldwide gene editing conference in Hong Kong.

Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on January 21.

Editing the genes of embryos intended for pregnancy is banned in many countries, including the United States. In China, ministerial guidelines prohibit embryo research that "violates ethical or moral principles".

Only one of the twin girls, however, has immunity against the HIV virus, He said.

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

There are plain-clothes guards at the university apartment where He is living, because "He and the authorities believed it was a good idea" to shield him from media and others trying to contact him, not because he's being treated like a prisoner, Hurlbut said.