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WHO to discuss genome editing while Dr He Jiankui is missing

10 December 2018
Appeared in BioNews 979

The World Health Organisation will establish a panel of experts to study the potential uses of genome editing in humans, and formulate guidelines for use of the technology.

The panel was announced by the WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in the wake of the announcement of the birth of genome-edited baby girls in China (see BioNews 977). 

'Gene editing may have unintended consequences, this is uncharted water and it has to be taken seriously,' he told a news conference in Geneva. 'We will work with member states to do everything we can to make sure of all issues - be it ethical, social, safety - before any manipulation is done.'

The panel will be comprised of academics and medical experts from WHO and national governments.

The announcement of the twins' birth continues to make waves, despite Dr He's work not having been published. A letter signed by 149 Chinese HIV researchers was published in The Lancet last week, condemning the editing of healthy human embryos and distancing themselves from Dr He's work. 

Dr He's work was halted by the Chinese Government which declared a 'zero tolerance attitude in dealing with dishonourable behaviour' in research. An application to register the project on the database of the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry has since been withdrawn according to the Japan Times.

Dr He has not been seen since his appearance at the International Summit on Human Genome editing in Hong Kong on 28 November. He is believed to be under house arrest, although no official statement has been made. Dr He's employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, has declined to comment on his whereabouts.

11 February 2019 - by Jennifer Willows 
Stanford University in California is reviewing staff interactions with Dr He Jiankui, as it emerges that he was in contact with academics at multiple institutions...
14 January 2019 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui, who claimed to have created the world's first genome-edited babies is said to be alive and well, and under guard at home...
3 December 2018 - by Rachel Siden 
Authorities in China are moving to suspend the research activities of the scientists who claim to have modified the genomes of twin girls with CRISPR-Cas9...
3 December 2018 - by Professor John Harris 
The announcement that Chinese scientists had genetically edited two embryos resulting in genome-edited human babies has occasioned outrage. My first reaction is that this action (if true) is both premature and reckless...
3 December 2018 - by Dr Andy Greenfield 
I remember where I was when I first heard about the deaths of Elvis and John Lennon, and about the planes that flew into the Twin Towers. Now, I can add to that list where I was when the news broke of the birth of two genome-edited babies.
26 November 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The first births from genome-edited human embryos have been announced by a Chinese researcher amid widespread condemnation, and fears over safety...
26 November 2018 - by Dr Dusko Ilic 
Back in 18th century, British physician Dr Edward Jenner tested his hypothesis that harmless cowpox can prevent deadly smallpox disease on a young boy in exchange for a few coins to his poor parents. In 2018, a Chinese researcher Dr He Jiankui tested genome editing on human embryos in exchange for free IVF treatment. But that's where the parallels end...
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