Chinese geneticist reveals another pregnancy that could have been genetically edited
A Chinese scientist who unleashed an ethical storm on his claim to have achieved the first genetically modified babies in the world, said Wednesday that he is proud of his work and revealed that there could be another pregnant woman as part of the investigation.
He Jiankui, associate professor at SUSTech (University of Science and Technology of the South) in Shenzhen, China, spoke to a room crowded by about 700 people who attended the Human Genome Edition Summit at the University of Hong Kong.
"In this case, I feel proud," he said, when he was questioned by several colleagues at the conference.
When asked if there were other genetic pregnancies edited as part of his trials, I said he had another "possible" pregnancy and answered "yes" to a later question about whether it was a "chemical pregnancy", a term that was Used for natural abortions in the first weeks of gestation.
It was not clear if that pregnancy was over or not.
"This study has been sent to a scientific journal for its review," said the scientist. He did not name the magazine and stated that his university was not aware of his study.
In videos published on the Internet this week, he said he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the genes in the embryonic stage of the twins born this month.
He said that gene editing would help protect girls from HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS.
However, scientists and the Chinese government have denounced the work that I have claimed to have done, and a hospital linked to their investigation suggested that their ethical approval had been falsified.
The moderator of the conference, Robin Lovell-Badge, said that the organizers of the event were unaware of the investigation until it was made public this week.
CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to cut and paste DNA, which is a technology that increases the hope of finding genetic solutions for diseases. However, there are concerns about security and ethics in their use.
The Chinese Society of Cell Biology strongly condemned on Tuesday any application of gene editing in human embryos for reproductive purposes and said it was against the law and medical ethics of China.
More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in a letter open Tuesday that the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit human embryonic genes was dangerous and unwarranted. "Pandora's box has been opened," they said.
The scientist, who claimed to be against improving genes, said eight couples were initially coined for their study and that one deserted. The criteria required was that the father was HIV positive and the mother, HIV negative.
He also said that all participants had a "good level of education" and that they had gone through two rounds of discussion with him and his team.
The consent form that was given to couples mentioned multiple risks, but there are few details about potential complications of the gene editing process itself, and does not mention that such an experiment had never been performed before.