Rogue Scientist Who Created Genetically Modified Babies Defends Controversial Work

Frederick Owens
November 30, 2018

"This leaked unexpectedly, taking away from the community before presenting in a scientific venue and without the peer review process engaged before this conference", Jiankui said while speaking at an global conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

China has halted the work of the scientist who claims to have created the world's first genetically edited babies, and says it will investigate.

"I must apologize, this result was leaked unexpectedly", He Jiankui told a Hong Kong medical conference on Wednesday, as cited by AFP. Gene editing of this sort is banned in the U.S. due to fear of the DNA changes being passed to future generations with the risk of harm to other genes.

He claims to have used the gene editing tool to bestow a trait that few people born naturally have, an ability to resist future infection with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

Asked whether there were any other edited gene pregnancies as part of his trials, He said there was another "potential" pregnancy and replied "yes" to a follow-up question as to whether it was a "chemical pregnancy", which refers to an early-stage miscarriage.

He also thanked his university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in China, but noted that they were "unaware of the study's conduct".

"I haven't seen any of the research and I don't know what he is planning to claim", Baltimore said.

David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and a leader of the conference, called Mr He's work "irresponsible", and said it showed the scientific community had failed to regulate itself.

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He added that he had initially funded the experiment by himself.

Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of science and technology, said Tuesday that the Chinese government had issued regulations in 2003 that permitted gene-editing experiments on embryos for research purposes, but only if they remain viable no more than 14 days, according to the state broadcaster China Central Television.

Chinese scientists have also condemned the work and the Southern University of Science and Technology, where He is on leave from his position as an associate professor, has announced an investigation.

He called the team's actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered to punish the researchers, but made no mention of specific actions taken.

He's university has disavowed his research, saying in a statement that it was "deeply shocked" and accusing He of "seriously [violating] academic ethics and codes of conduct".

He, who was educated at Stanford University, said the twins' DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

The founder of an HIV support group reported to be based in Beijing said Thursday that he regretted introducing families to He for the trial, according to Hong Kong media. "Just a child who won't suffer from a disease which medicine can prevent", He said in a video published on YouTube.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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