Time moves on; this story has too. Readers might like to try my more recent piece, Genome-edited babies – what’s the worry?, which covers the biological aspects of what was done.
For those following the news that a Hong Kong-based researcher claims to have brought to term human gene-edited babies: hold the horses.
I’ve been trying to put a story on this together. I see cracks in the story and now some extraordinary claims made online from sources that at least deserve consideration.
Something doesn’t look right, likely a lot of things.
A retrospective approval?
Like a few others I noted that the English-language clinical trial approval is retrospective. That form is dated as being registered on 11-November-2018, and refreshed on the 26th November.
The accompanying Chinese-language paper form (which I can’t read) is dated 7th March 2017 (or possibly 3rd July 2017), a year and a half earlier. At the top of the Chinese-language form is March 2017 — March 2019, which might be the trial period – ?
The clinical trial filing being retrospective might at kindest be ‘curious’, but further reports offer much stranger claims.
More odd claims
There are claims (great work, do read their account) that:
- the researcher has been on leave without pay since February
- he has no genetics or human health experience, and others thought he was working on DNA sequencing technology
- the applicant for the clinical trial is a veterinarian researcher who works on animal breeding
- the hospital denies the babies were born at the hospital; they also deny knowing the researcher
- the ethics committee deny having signed the approval form
Among the tweets they cite is this from Dr Ellis a synthetic biology and genomics researcher at Imperial College, London. (His twitter profiles says he’s “Bilingual in English and DNA.”) –
And… well I’ll stop there.
Hold the horses, sit it out
There is likely to be more to this. Let the details emerge. As I once wrote about other stories,
If it’s hot, wait. This one applies to all science stories: if something is hot of the presses, wait. Hold up for a bit. It’s what scientists do, too. There’s no rush with science, right? If a newspaper writes that some researchers have ‘just reported’ or ‘just announced’ some bold new claim – set it aside for several days (at least) and wait to hear what other scientists have to say about it. The judgement of research isn’t (just) in the peer review that accepts a piece of research for publication, but in the wider review by scientists after it is published. ‘Hot’ stories in the media get in before that.
If it gets attention in media and there look to be concerns about the science, it’s common for ‘corrective’ stories to appear fairly quickly. They are mostly found at science writing forums like this one, not where the original stories are.
Yes, we’re doing this again. Who knows what the story is at this stage.
You could always read some of my older articles instead – a few are listed below under Other articles at Code for life. Some fun, some more serious. Or just browse around Sciblogs.
If you need a little more aside from that the therapy idea doesn’t make sense, Chinese researchers say on a Chinese website that it’s illegal in China,
The Ethical Guiding Principles for the Research of Human Embryonic Stem Cell which was published by the Chinese government in 2003 states that scientists are allowed to conduct genetic editing to human embryos only for research purposes, but the time for their in-vitro breeding shall not exceed 14 days from the date of fertilization or nucleus transplant.
“We don’t know if this work is real or fake. If it’s real, then this is certainly banned in China.” Xu Nanping, Vice Minister of MOST, said in an event held by the State Council Information Office of China on Tuesday.
Other articles at Code for life
About the featured image
Originally from ShutterStock, royalty-free images; sourced from The Conversation.