He Jiankui… on November 25, the young Chinese researcher became the center of a global firestorm when it emerged that he had allegedly made the first crispr-edited babies, twin girls named Lulu and Nana. Antonio Regalado broke the story for MIT Technology Review, and He himself described the experiment at an international gene-editing summit in Hong Kong. After his talk, He revealed that another early pregnancy is under way.
It is still unclear if He did what he claims to have done. Nonetheless, the reaction was swift and negative. The crispr pioneer Jennifer Doudna says she was “horrified,” NIH Director Francis Collins said the experiment was “profoundly disturbing,” and even Julian Savulescu, an ethicist who has described gene-editing research as “a moral necessity,” described He’s work as “monstrous.”
Such a strong reaction is understandable, given the many puzzling and worrying details about the experiment. Even without any speculation about designer babies and Gattaca-like futures that may or may not come to pass, the details about what has already transpired are galling enough. If you wanted to create the worst possible scenario for introducing the first gene-edited babies into the world, it is difficult to imagine how you could improve on this 15-part farce.
13. Scientific academies have prevaricated.
In the wake of He’s bombshell, several scientists, including the crispr pioneer Feng Zhang and the stem-cell biologist Paul Knoepfler, have called for a temporary moratorium on similar experiments. By contrast, after the news first broke, the organizing committee of the Hong Kong summit, which includes representatives from scientific academies in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States, released a bland statement in which it simply restated the conclusions from its earlier report. A second statement, released after the summit, was stronger, calling He’s claims “deeply disturbing” and his work “irresponsible.”
Read: A reckless and needless use of gene editing on human embryos
But the second statement still discusses the creation of more gene-edited babies as a goal that should be worked toward. The risks are “too great to permit clinical trials of germ-line editing at this time,” it says, but “it is time to define a rigorous, responsible translational pathway toward such trials.” George Daley from Harvard Medical School, who was one of the meeting’s co-organizers, made similar points during the event itself. Given that the world is still grappling with the implications of what has happened, “no, it’s not time yet and it’s tone-deaf to say so,” says Hank Greely.
“Although the chair opened the summit by invoking Huxley’s Brave New World, few of the discussions at the meeting, and nothing in the concluding statement, suggest a meaningful engagement with social consequences,” says the Center for Genetics in Society, a watchdog group.
Chinese scientist who edited twin girls’ genes He Jiankui missing for over a week!!!!
by Jack Kilbride and Bang Xiao
Posted about 11 hours ago
Disgraced Chinese scientist He Jiankui pictured onstage against black backdrop
PHOTO: The Chinese Government has launched a full investigation into Dr He and his research. (AP: Kin Cheung)
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Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the world by announcing he edited the genes of twin sisters, Nana and Lulu, but now he may be missing.
Dr He has not been seen or heard from since talking at Hong Kong summit last Wednesday
HK media reported that the university president personally escorted him back to Shenzhen
Dr He was funded by multiple investors and a part of Beijing’s Thousand Talents Program
Last week, Dr He received scathing criticism from doctors and academics for using a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls in an attempt to protect them from infection with the HIV virus carried by their father.
The Chinese scientist who claimed that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies is said to be under house arrest at his university.
He Jiankui has not been seen since he walked off stage at an international genome-editing summit in Hong Kong last week. The president of the Southern University of Science and Technology, which employs Professor He, escorted him back to the campus in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, according to local media.
When He Jiankui shocked the world last week by declaring he had successfully altered the genetic code of two babies, he was met with overwhelming skepticism and condemnation from the scientific community. Now, his case has gotten weirder. The South China Morning Post reports that the infamous scientist has gone missing.
Officials at He’s now-former university, the Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology, denied claims that He had been detained by the Chinese government. “Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are,” the official tells the SCMP.
On November 26, He Jiankui released a series of YouTube videos announcing that he had made science fiction real—using the genetic editing tool CRISPR, he had successfully edited the genetic code of two twin baby girls to make them more resistant to the HIV virus. He had not allowed any independent scientific inspection of his work, choosing to announce his breakthrough through mainstream journalism and social media.
The whereabouts of He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies, remain unknown after his former workplace refuted media reports that he was detained over the weekend.
A spokeswoman for China’s Southern University of Science and Technology said that media reports of He’s detention were inaccurate but added that the university would be unable to answer any further questions regarding the matter, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported.
The scientist stunned the medical community last week in a YouTube video, in which he claimed to have altered embryos for a couple during fertility treatments.
At a conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, he gave his first public remarks on the DNA manipulation, saying that he altered the genetic material of two human embryos with the aim of making them resistant to HIV infections. The former Stanford University postdoctoral fellow then claimed that the gene-edited twin girls were born “normal and healthy” earlier this month.
h/t Digital mix guy
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