A second pregnancy established with a genome-edited embryo is ongoing, Chinese authorities have confirmed.
The announcement comes shortly after the Guangdong province health ministry issued a damning report on the research of Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui. The ministry said that Dr He broke national regulations against using genome editing for reproductive purposes in humans.
'This behaviour seriously violates ethics and the integrity of scientific research, is in serious violation of relevant national regulations and creates a pernicious influence at home and abroad,' the report stated, according to China's official news agency, Xinhua.
Dr He, who at the time was an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China, announced in November that he and his team had edited the genome of human embryos, in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV. The modified embryos were implanted into a woman resulting in the birth of twin girls (see BioNews 977).
The Chinese government ordered a halt to Dr He's work shortly after. A potential second pregnancy was mentioned but unverified at the time.
The subsequent investigation found that Dr He had forged ethical review papers and deliberately evaded supervision of his work 'in pursuit of personal fame and gain', according to Xinhua. SUSTech has since announced that it has terminated Dr He's employment, saying that his work 'seriously violated academic ethics'.
The controversial genome-editing study has been widely criticised both in China and internationally, highlighting an urgent need for international regulation on genome editing (see BioNews 978).
'[The] news is the expected consequence of any clinical research that would be led outside of the legal framework to establish ethical authorisations,' said Dr Lydia Teboul, Head of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Mary Lyon Centre, MRC Harwell. 'Going forward, it is essential that these events do not trigger a wholesale rejection of the genome editing technology as a basis of clinical tools.'
Dr Yalda Jamshidi, reader in genomic medicine at St George’s University of London, added: 'The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community that genome editing, like all potentially new medical interventions, will only be allowed where they address a true medical need, and with appropriate ethical and regulatory oversight.'