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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 An application to register the project on the database of the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry has since been withdrawn according to the Japan Times.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.

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