An­other vol­un­teer preg­nant: Ge­neti­cist

> ‘Proud’ He plans to mon­i­tor gene-edited chil­dren for next 18 years

The Sun (Malaysia) - - NEWS WITHOUT BORDERS -

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.

AFPPIX

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.

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