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Stanford says its researchers did not help Chinese biologist who gene-edited babies

By Jon Cohen

Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, has exonerated “several” of its researchers who interacted with He Jiankui, the Chinese biologist now infamous for creating the first gene-edited human babies, twins that were born in October. After a “fact-finding review” conducted by an unnamed member of Stanford’s faculty and an outside investigator, the university concluded in a statement released today that its researchers “expressed serious concerns” to He about his work with human embryos intended for implantation and did not participate in it.

Although Stanford did not name the researchers,  bioethicist William Hurlbut and hematologist Matthew Porteus, both at the university, have previously acknowledged discussing the project with He and said they tried to dissuade him.  He was also in 2011-12 a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Stanford bioengineer Stephen Quake. Quake’s interactions with He was the subject of a lengthy New York Times story on Sunday.

The extensive consultations He had with many American researchers about his gene-editing plans has raised questions about whether any of them took enough action to try and stop him before he implanted the embryos. The president of He’s Chinese university wrote to Stanford’s president alleging that Quake had helped He, according to the New York Times. Quake denied that to the paper and said  he had encouraged his former mentee to get appropriate ethics approval. “To the extent that it wasn’t obvious misconduct, what does a person in my position do? Encourage him to do it right, his research, right? I mean, that’s what I believed I was doing,” Quake said to the New York Times.

Source: Science Mag