He Jiankui defends ‘world’s first gene-edited babies’
A Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies has defended his work.
Speaking at a genome summit in Hong Kong, He Jiankui said he was “proud” of altering the genes of twin girls so they cannot contract HIV.
His work, which he announced earlier this week, has not been verified.
Many scientists have condemned his announcement. Such gene-editing work is banned in most countries, including China.
Prof He’s university – the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen – said it was unaware of the research project and would launch an investigation. It said Mr He had been on unpaid leave since February.
Prof He confirmed the university was not aware, adding he had funded the experiment by himself.
“If true, this experiment is monstrous. Gene editing itself is experimental and is still associated with off-target mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer,” Prof Julian Savulescu, an ethics expert at the University of Oxford, told the BBC.
“This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit.”
Many countries, including the UK, have laws that prevent the use of genome editing in embryos for assisted reproduction in humans.
Scientists can do gene editing research on discarded IVF embryos, as long as they are destroyed immediately afterwards and not used to make a baby.
Prof He’s experiment is prohibited under Chinese laws, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state media.
China allows in-vitro human embryonic stem cell research for a maximum period of 14 days, Mr Xu clarified.