Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims gene-editing work submitted to journal

Local | 28 Nov 2018 1:50 pm

Controversial Chinese scientist He Jiankui who has been condemned for creating gene-edited babies, apologized in Hong Kong today that his study had been leaked and said his work "has been submitted to a scientific journal for review.''

The associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, spoke at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong. 

He apologized "that this result was leaked unexpectedly.'' He also indicated he had not informed the university of his study.

When challenged by several peers at the conference, Reuters reported He as saying: "For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest.''

During the question and answer session, He said he felt proud because Mark – the father of the twin girls Lulu and Nana – thought he had lost hope for life.

"He [Mark] sent a message on the day of birth, saying I will work hard, earn money and take care of his two daughters and his wife for his second half [of his] life," He said.

He had said previously the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where the work was done.

The Associated Press reported in an exclusive that the scientist claimed that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month. Their DNA had been altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.

He said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus.

"I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” He told the AP. "Society will decide what to do next” in terms of allowing or forbidding such science.

Some scientists were astounded to hear of the claim and strongly condemned it.

It’s "unconscionable ... an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal.

"This is far too premature,” said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. "We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It’s a big deal.”

The National Health Commission has ordered local officials in Guangdong province to investigate He’s actions, AP reports. His employer, Southern University of Science and Technology, is investigating as well.

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