The World Health Organization is creating a panel to discuss the implications of gene editing, especially in humans.

WHO Panel On Gene Editing

The decision is a response to the shocking report that a scientist from China created the first genetically-edited babies using the CRISPR/Cas9 tool. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said that they are gathering experts of the field to discuss the ethical and societal issues of gene editing.

“It cannot just be done without clear guidelines,” he said during a press briefing in Geneva. “We have to be very, very careful … We should not go into gene editing without understanding the unintended consequences.”

Not many details have been disclosed, but reports revealed that the panel will include academics, government, and WHO medical experts. The international public health agency of the United Nations hopes to convene before any more manipulation occurs.

Gene-Editing Babies In China

Ghebreyesus did not explicitly admit that the panel is WHO’s response to the admission of Chinese scientist Jiankui He that he altered the DNA of twin girls to prevent them from being infected by the HIV/AIDS virus in the future. However, the scientific community was on an uproar after news of the gene editing had broken out. Several prominent names in the field in China and across the world slammed He, questioning both the morality and the effectiveness of the experiment.

Last week, He released a series of videos to defend the experiment, saying that the girls — Lulu and Nana — were born healthy. He assured that there are plans to monitor and observe the girls until they are 18 years old.

China’s ministry of science and technology distanced itself from the controversial experiment and demanded to halt all “scientific activities of relevant personnel.”

The South China Morning Post reported that the whereabouts of the scientist is still unknown. Officials of the Southern University of Science and Technology denied claims that He has been brought back to Shenzhen by the university’s president and has been detained over the weekend.

The university refused to reveal further details but promised to update official channels as soon as more information becomes available.

 

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