'It's Obscene': Researchers Condemned Over Genetically Modified Babies

"Cowboy" researchers are being slammed by the science community after claims they had genetically-altered babies to be HIV resistant.

Debate in the science community has been ignited after He Jianku, from the Southern University of Science and Technology, released a Youtube video claiming to have copy and pasted genes into embryos

The CCR5 gene was "turned off", making the babies resistant to HIV, Jianku told the Associated Press.

It is claimed Jianku promised seven couples free IVF treatment if he was able to genetically alter the embryos. All seven fathers were reportedly HIV positive.

One couple has since had twin girls -- one has both sets of genes altered while the other only had one gene altered.

Embryos are made of two sets of genes -- one from their mother and one from their father.

Having one baby born with just one set altered is particularly worrying for reproductive biology expert  Dr Hannah Brown, Chief Science Storyteller at the South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute.

"It's obscene, it's hearsay, but the two babies have been genetically altered differently," Brown told 10 daily.

"If they were both edited the same they would have full resistance."

Brown suggests this questions the true intentions of the research, that it was intended to test the safety and efficacy of the technology.

The existence of proven prevention methods for HIV, such as condoms, makes this ethically inexcusable for Brown.

"This is different from removing genes for cystic fibrosis or Huntington's Disease," she said.

"It's really scary, it's going places that aren't safe."

Another ethical concern is the scientists involved have a financial interest in the companies that would benefit most from the success of the technology.

"It's an ethical grey area, that these so-called scientists have a massive conflict of interest," Brown said.

He Jianku. Image: Youtube/ AP

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The validity of the research, which was undertaken with U.S. scientist Micheal Deem, is being questioned because Jianku chose to release his findings through the media and not through a peer-reviewed journal.

"It is important to recognise that these reports remain unsubstantiated, but are of grave concern," Brown said.

"The implications for cowboy-style 'researchers' taking experiments into their own hands risk damaging the already fragile relationship between science and society."

The university, based in Shenzhen, said it did not know the research was being conducted on campus and were launching an investigation.

"The research was conducted outside of the campus and was not reported to the University nor the Department," it said in a statement.

"The University will call for international experts to form an independent committee to investigate this incident, and to release the results to the public."