Another volunteer pregnant: Geneticist
> ‘Proud’ He plans to monitor gene-edited children for next 18 years
HONG KONG: A scientist at the centre of an ethical storm over what he claims are the world’s first genetically edited babies said yesterday he is proud of his work and revealed that another volunteer is pregnant as part of the research.
He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, addressed a packed hall of around 700 people attending the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong.
“For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest,” He said, when challenged by several peers at the conference.
“This study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review,” He said.
He did not name the journal and said his university was unaware of his study.
He, who said his work was self-funded, shrugged off concerns that the research was conducted in secrecy, explaining that he had engaged the scientific community over the past three years.
In videos posted online, He said he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born this month.
He said gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But scientists and the Chinese government have denounced the work that He said he carried out, and a hospital linked to his research suggested its ethical approval had been forged.
The conference moderator, Robin Lovell-Badge, said the summit organisers were unaware of the story until it broke this week.
CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to essentially cut and paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease. However, there are concerns about safety and ethics.
He said eight couples initially enrolled for his study but one pair dropped out.
The criteria required the father to be HIV positive and the mother to be HIV negative.
American biologist David Baltimore, who spoke after He’s speech, said it was irresponsible to have proceeded until safety issues were in order.
“I don’t think it has been a transparent process. Only found out about it after it happened and the children were born.”
He said his results could be used for millions with inherent diseases.
He said he would monitor the two newborns for the next 18 years and hoped they would support continued monitoring thereafter. – Reuters
Vehicles drive on a flooded street in Sydney yesterday in this still image taken from a video obtained from @DeeCee451’s Twitter account.
He (centre) takes part in a question and answer session after speaking at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong yesterday.