Rice University said Monday that it had opened a “full investigation” into the involvement of one of its faculty members in a study that purportedly resulted in the creation of the world’s first babies born with edited DNA.

Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice, told the Associated Press in a story published Sunday that he helped work on the research in China.

The research was led by He Jiankui, a Shenzhen-based scientist who claims to have helped deliver a set of twin girls whose genomes were edited while they were embryos. Deem served as He’s adviser when He was a graduate student at Rice.

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Outside scientists have not yet verified He’s claims, and the research has not been published in a journal. But many scientists and ethicists expressed outrage at the reports that girls with edited DNA had been born.

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Editing the genomes of embryos is controversial because the changes would be passed on to future generations. Such research is illegal in the United States. Even researchers who support one day editing embryonic DNA to prevent diseases faulted He’s project for lacking proper safeguards and transparency.

In its statement, Rice said it was not aware of the research ahead of time and that “regardless of where it was conducted, this work as described in press reports violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University.”

Deem did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the embryos, He used the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to disable a gene called CCR5, which produces a receptor that allows HIV to enter cells. People without functional CCR5 genes are immune from HIV infections. The girl’s father had HIV and wanted to avoid passing the virus on to his children, He told the AP, which first reported the twins had been born.

Deem told the AP that he was in China when participants in the study consented to join the research. Deem also said that he had “a small stake” in and is on the scientific advisory boards of He’s two companies.

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  • It’s very very sad that this scientist doing research by fooling the Chinese parents and using their babies as lab materials when the technique is in quite premature stage. That is not only as evil as Nazi but also violate the law and human dignity. I totally support Rice University take action for this serious issue.

  • If the technology is available and someone that says they were OUTSIDE the USA when the editing was done, what makes it violate USA policy then? And who is the rest of society to tell someone NO you can’t have a child via means that may make sure they are incapable of contracting HIV?? Its NONE of our business. Its between the scientist and the client. Everyone else should just stay out of it.

    • YOU have the power of choice. The babies don’t.
      Scientifically this treatment doesn’t make sense. The risks far outweigh the benefits. There are safer ways to prevent the contraction of HIV.
      Experimenting on babies for personal glory – everyone should just stay out of it?

    • Although CRISPR has the ability to do a lot of good in the world, it is also important to note that if this experiment is unsuccessful or leads to complications later in life it could result in another Gelsinger-like situation. In that case, it set the field of gene therapy back years if not decades.

  • If people screw this up for the rest of us I will be mad and dead, I want to get in clinical trials as soon as possible. Crispr is the way to go in curing cancer, there are so many good people dying needlessly.

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