Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

SHENZHEN, China, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A Chinese scientist who created what he said were the world's first "gene-edited" babies evaded oversight and broke ethical boundaries in a quest for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as his former university said he had been fired.

He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born that month, sparking an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.

Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical.

Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.

He had "deliberately evaded oversight" with the intent of creating a gene-edited baby "for the purpose of reproduction," according to the initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported.

He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to "seek personal fame and profit," Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.

The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by national decree, the report said.

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.

"Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech," the statement said.

The university added the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.

Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on Monday. He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November, saying that he was "proud" of what he had done and that gene editing would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

International experts in genetic science said they hoped that Monday's report was only the initial result of investigations into He and that more action would be taken.

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Mothers of babies afflicted by Zika fight poverty, despair
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Mothers of babies afflicted by Zika fight poverty, despair
Rosana Vieira Alves and her five-month-old daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, pose for a picture in the sea of Porto de Galinhas, a beach located in Ipojuca, in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jackeline Vieira de Souza, 26, holds her four-month-old son Daniel who was born with microcephaly in front of their house in Olinda, near Recife, Brazil, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gabriela Alves de Azevedo, 22, holds her two-year-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 7, 2018. Gabriela had planned to finish high school and study physical therapy. Now, she spends her days caring for her child. Her husband left shortly after Ana Sophia's birth. He could not accept their child's condition, Gabriela says, and does not pay child support. "I went into depression and my family helped me," she said. "If it was not for them, I would have gone crazy." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Silvina da Silva poses with her two-year-old granddaughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 7, 2018. Ana Sophia's mother Gabriela had planned to finish high school and study physical therapy. Now, she spends her days caring for her child. Her husband left shortly after Ana Sophia's birth. He could not accept their child's condition, Gabriela says, and does not pay child support. "I went into depression and my family helped me," she said. "If it was not for them, I would have gone crazy." Today, some relatives give moral support and Ana Sophia's paternal grandmother helps with her day-to-day care. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 28, holds her two-year-old daughter Maria Giovanna, at their house in Recife, Brazil, August 8, 2018. Gleyse has help from her husband and mother in caring for Maria Giovanna "Gigi" da Silva. But the burden is still great, and she was forced to leave her job as a toll attendant. "She does not sit alone, she does not roll, she does not do anything alone," Gleyse said. Gigi needs an orthopedist, but there are not enough to go around, and she's perpetually on waiting lists. Gleyse struggles with navigating her daughter's wheelchair on public transportation. Few buses have working lifts, and some drivers have refused to help her. Such struggles prompted Gleyse to help create the Union of Mothers of Angels, which provides advice and logistical support for mothers of children with microcephaly. The group now serves more than 250 families in Pernambuco. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
X-ray of Rosana Vieira Alves's daughter Luana Vieira, who is four months old with microcephaly, is pictured at their house in Olinda, Brazil, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Luana Vieira, four months old, who was born with microcephaly, is held by her mother Rosana Vieira Alves as they ride the subway after a doctor's appointment in Recife, Brazil, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jackeline Vieira de Souza, 26, holds her four-month-old son Daniel who was born with microcephaly, as they walk toward their house in Olinda, near Recife, Brazil, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Luana Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, lies on a sofa after bath at her house in Olinda, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Luana's mother Rosana Vieira Alves has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jackeline Vieira de Souza, 26, uses a green bottle to stimulate her four-month-old son Daniel who was born with microcephaly inside their house in Olinda, near Recife, Brazil, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jackeline Vieira de Souza (R), 28, mother of Daniel Vieira stands by as Daniel, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, reacts to stimulus during an evaluation session with a physiotherapist at the Association of Parents and Friends of the Exceptional (APAE) in Recife, Brazil, August 7, 2018. A few years ago Jackeline fought to overcome a very rare complication from an earlier pregnancy, and then survived cancer. "My dream was to be a mother again," she says. In 2015, she got her wish. But during her pregnancy, she learned that her son had microcephaly. "When he was born, I fell in love with him because I knew he would be a good thing in my life, even with the difficulties I would have to face." Daniel's father separated from Jackeline shortly after learning that his son had microcephaly. He pays a small amount of family support every month, in addition to a monthly check that Jackeline gets from the government. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves holds her four-month-old daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Luana Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, is pushed in a wheelchair by her sister Vitoria Evillen, near a sports court in the housing complex where they live, in Olinda, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Luana's mother Rosana Vieira Alves has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Daniel Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, sleeps at his home in Olinda, Brazil, August 7, 2018. During her pregnancy, Daniel's mother Jackeline Vieira de Souza learned that her son had microcephaly. "When he was born, I fell in love with him because I knew he would be a good thing in my life, even with the difficulties I would have to face." Daniel's father separated from Jackeline shortly after learning that his son had microcephaly. He pays a small amount of family support every month, in addition to a monthly check that Jackeline gets from the government. It takes several hours to travel by bus between their home in Olinda and Recife, where Daniel goes for treatments. Lately, those trips are somewhat less frequent, and Jackeline believes Daniel's health is more stable. She has no illusions that her son will ever walk, eat on his own or live a normal life. Yet in many ways she is grateful for her "miracle" baby, who she says makes her feel "happy and more accomplished." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Luana Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, reacts to stimulus during an evaluation session with a physiotherapist at the Altino Ventura rehabilitation center in Recife, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Luana's mother Rosana Vieira Alves has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva embraces her daughter Maria Giovanna, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil, January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds Maria Giovanna, who has microcephaly, at their house in Recife, Brazil, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves carries her four-month-old daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, while taking her daughters Laiane Sophia (L) and Vitoria Evillen to their school in Olinda, Brazil, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter Maria Giovanna, who has microcephaly, at their house in Recife, Brazil, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, washes her two-year-old daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Rosana has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gabriela Alves de Azevedo bathes her four-month-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, feeds her two-year-old daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 9, 2018. Rosana has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gabriela Alves de Azevedo holds her four-month-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Maria Giovanna "Gigi" da Silva, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, sits in her home in Recife, Brazil, August 8, 2018. Gigi needs an orthopedist, but there are not enough to go around, and she's perpetually on waiting lists. Her mother Gleyse Kelly da Silva struggles with navigating her daughter's wheelchair on public transportation. Few buses have working lifts, and some drivers have refused to help her. "People do not respect my daughter's rights," she said. Other mothers have told her similar stories, including a bus passenger who refused to ride with "that demon," referring to a baby with microcephaly. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gabriela Alves de Azevedo, 22, holds her two-year-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 7, 2018. Gabriela had planned to finish high school and study physical therapy. Now, she spends her days caring for her child. Her husband left shortly after Ana Sophia's birth. He could not accept their child's condition, Gabriela says, and does not pay child support. "I went into depression and my family helped me," she said. "If it was not for them, I would have gone crazy." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Houses stand in the Morro da Conceicao neighbourhood in front of high rises in Recife, Brazil, August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Luana Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, reacts to stimulus during an evaluation session with a physiotherapist at the Altino Ventura rehabilitation center in Recife, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Luana's mother Rosana Vieira Alves has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, holds her two-year-old, daughter Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, at a supermarket in Olinda, Brazil, August 9, 2018. Rosana has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Daniel Vieira, who is two years old, and was born with microcephaly, is greeted by his brother at their house in Olinda, Brazil, August 7, 2018. During her pregnancy, Daniel's mother Jackeline Vieira de Souza learned that her son had microcephaly. "When he was born, I fell in love with him because I knew he would be a good thing in my life, even with the difficulties I would have to face." Daniel's father separated from Jackeline shortly after learning that his son had microcephaly. He pays a small amount of family support every month, in addition to a monthly check that Jackeline gets from the government. It takes several hours to travel by bus between their home in Olinda and Recife, where Daniel goes for treatments. Lately, those trips are somewhat less frequent, and Jackeline believes Daniel's health is more stable. She has no illusions that her son will ever walk, eat on his own or live a normal life. Yet in many ways she is grateful for her "miracle" baby, who she says makes her feel "happy and more accomplished." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 28, rests on the baby carriage of her two-year-old daughter Maria Giovanna, while waiting for a medical appointment in a hospital in Recife, Brazil, August 8, 2018. Gleyse has help from her husband and mother in caring for Maria Giovanna "Gigi" da Silva. But the burden is still great, and she was forced to leave her job as a toll attendant. "She does not sit alone, she does not roll, she does not do anything alone," Gleyse said. Gigi needs an orthopedist, but there are not enough to go around, and she's perpetually on waiting lists. Gleyse struggles with navigating her daughter's wheelchair on public transportation. Few buses have working lifts, and some drivers have refused to help her. "People do not respect my daughter's rights," she said. Other mothers have told her similar stories, including a bus passenger who refused to ride with "that demon," referring to a baby with microcephaly. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, smiles with her daughter two-year-old Luana Vieira, who was born with microcephaly, during an evaluation session with a physiotherapist at the Altino Ventura rehabilitation center in Recife, Brazil, August 6, 2018. Rosana has three daughters. "It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand." Rosana does not have any family support and is overwhelmed by the cost of housing and Luana's medicines. She counts it a victory that she has managed to get a wheelchair for Luana, and worries about the four surgeries her daughter needs to correct problems with her eyes, her gut and the position of her hips and feet. The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "ZIKA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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"The report will hopefully set an example with appropriate legal and punitive actions to reassure the public and scientific community," said Yalda Jamshidi, a genomics expert at Britain's University of London.

He's announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure, as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.

Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction, and says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.

The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing crimes have been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Helen O'Neill, a reproductive science expert at University College London, said she was concerned that the report gave "no further clarification on what measures will be taken to prevent this happening in future, nor what will be done as punishment." (Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Sue-Lin Wong in Shenzhen, CHINA; additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; editing by Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson)

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