The Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where He is an associate professor, added that he has been on unpaid leave since February and is not expected to return for another two years.
According to the AP, a US scientist had helped with the project but said that this sort of DNA editing is banned in the States due to risks that could be passed down for generations. South University of Science and Technology of China declared that it didn't know about the project at all and it condemned He's project for "seriously violating academic ethics and academic norms". He told the Associated Press that he edited embryos for seven couples, though only one pregnancy has come to fruition so far. Deem said he was in China when the participants agreed to the trial, and that they were aware of the risks. Editing sperm or embryos is different - the changes can be inherited. Others have expressed concern for both the safety of the human gene pool and the recently born infants, female twins, long-term health. If true, many experts say it is a risky leap in science and ethics.
The reports fall in the grey area between attempts to cure diseases, and the dreaded "designer baby" scenario, where humans could be modified for benefits unrelated to health (potentially expanding to include intelligence, aesthetics and more).
"The University was deeply shocked by this event and has taken immediate action to reach Dr. Jiankui He for clarification", the officials said in the statement.
The team led by Jiankui He focused on removing a gene called CCR5, critical for the HIV virus to enter into the cells.
Although gene editing on humans is prohibited in most countries (China has banned cloning but not human embryo gene editing specifically), He and colleagues seem nevertheless bent on experimenting with gene editing and human cells.
Dr He Jiankui revealed the birth of the baby twin girls ahead of a major genome editing conference in Hong Kong.
He received his PhD at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in Stephen Quake lab at Stanford University according to the site.
"If it's true as reported then it's an extremely premature and questionable experiment in creating genetically modified children", said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.
Reports indicate that gene-edited twin girls have now been born.
He claims that the parents involved in the study have declined to be interviewed, and also refused to disclose the location of where the research was carried out.
He lays out his ethical principles in one of the YouTube videos, including this statement: "No one has a right to determine a child's genetics except to prevent disease".
"All of us here at this conference are struggling to figure out what was done and also whether the process was done properly", she said. In the US, scientists can perform laboratory embryo research only with private funding, not with federal taxpayer money.
CRISPR is cheap and easy to deploy, but scientists are still debating the ethics of using it in human beings.
When the girls were still embryos, he used chemical "scissors" to turn off a gene that makes people vulnerable to HIV infection.