Fact Check: The Contract from the Chinese Research Group that Arguably Has Produced HIV-resistant Babies


The recent news below uncovered the contract about producing an HIV-resistant baby with gene editting technology.

Link to article (Chinese) from HK-based periodical Apple Daily.

The contract made by a Chinese team is in English. According to the statement, the project fund was from the South University of Science and Technology, while the project’s leader He (賀建奎) already left the university in this February. The contract also described the cost and procedures.

The news also claimed that the project involves in 400 embryonic experiments.

Were the participants of the study given informed consent?

Though the laboratory website of Dr. Jiankui He has been taken offline, it remains possible to access the documents in question via The Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” from as recently as 28 November.

The paper shown in the image accompanying the Apple Daily article is in fact page seven of the informed consent form, which was formerly available on their website. However, the forms made available were blank templates, not originals. This is unsurprising, given the private nature of medical information.

Consent Form
A closeup of informed consent page seven from the image in the Apple Daily article

Nevertheless, as the results of these experiments have not been published or otherwise made available to the public, we can only take Dr. He at his word, not only that these forms were completed but also that the genotypes of the two babies were confirmed postnatally as Dr. He indicated. At this point, we can only take him at his word for the success of the experiment, but the documentation seems to corroborate his story.

It is worth noting that the ensuing row has little to do with whether the experiment was successful but rather with whether proper ethics protocols were observed.

We therefore rate this claim as likely, yet unconfirmed.

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