China has halted the work of the scientist who claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, and says it will investigate.
He Jiankui caused outrage earlier this week when he told a genome summit he had altered the genes of twin baby girls so they could not contract HIV.
His statement has not been confirmed, but if true breaks tight rules around the use of gene editing in humans.
Prof He’s university said it was unaware of his experiment.
The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said earlier in the week he had been on unpaid leave since February, and it would be investigating the claims.
On Thursday, China’s science ministry said it had “demanded that the relevant organisation suspend the scientific activities of relevant personnel”.
The National Health Commission has already said Prof He’s work “seriously violates China’s laws, regulations and ethical standards” and would investigate the claims
Prof He announced that he had altered the DNA of embryos – twin girls known as Lulu and Nana – to prevent them from contracting HIV.
Speaking to the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong, he said the girls were “born normal and healthy” and they would be monitored over the next 18 years.
He said he had funded the experiment himself and confirmed his university had not been aware of it.
Prof He also explained that eight couples – comprised of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers – had signed up voluntarily for the experiment. One couple dropped out, but there was “another potential pregnancy” of a gene-edited embryo in its early stages.
He said his study had been submitted to a scientific journal for review, though he did not name the journal. He was also evasive about other details, including the names of “some experts” he said had reviewed his work and offered feedback.