HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Chinese scientist at the center of an ethical storm over what he claims to be the first genetically modified babies in the world said Wednesday that he was proud of his job and had revealed that another volunteer is pregnant as part of the research.
Scientist He Jiankui participates in the International Summit on the Modification of the Human Genome at the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China on November 28, 2018. REUTERS / Stringer
He Jiankui, associate professor at Southern University Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, delivered a speech in front of a packed audience of about 700 people attending the Summit on the Human Genome Publishing in Beijing. University of Hong Kong.
"For this case, I am proud. I feel most proud, "he said when he was challenged by several peers at the conference.
"This study has been submitted to a scientific review for review," he said. He did not name the newspaper and said his university was not aware of his study.
He, who said his work was self-financing, dismissed concerns that the research had been conducted in secret, explaining that he had mobilized the scientific community over the past three years.
In videos posted online this week, he said he used a gene modification technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to modify the embryonic genes of binoculars born this month.
He added that gene editing would help protect girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But scientists and the Chinese government denounced the work he said he had done, and a hospital linked to his research suggested that his ethical approval had been forged.
Conference moderator, Robin Lovell-Badge, said the summit organizers were not aware of the story until the case went off this week.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to cut and glue DNA, which gives hope for genetic solutions to the disease. However, there are concerns about security and ethics.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Chinese Society of Cell Biology strongly condemned any application of gene editing to human embryos for reproductive purposes and said that this was contrary to the law and medical ethics of the China.
More than 100 scientists, most of them in China, said Tuesday in an open letter that the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to alter human embryo genes was dangerous and unjustified. "The Pandora's box has been opened," they said.
His research focuses on genome sequencing technology, bioinformatics and genome editing, according to his biography on the summit's website.
He earned his Ph.D. from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Stephen Quake's laboratory at Stanford University, according to the site.
(Graph explaining the CRISPR gene editing technique: tmsnrt.rs/2ReKG1R)
He, who said he was opposed to improving genes, said that eight couples had initially been enrolled in his study and another had dropped out of school. The criteria required that the father be HIV-positive and that the mother be HIV-negative.
David Baltimore, President Emeritus; Robert Andrews Millikan, professor of biology, said after He's speech that it was irresponsible to have proceeded until security issues were resolved.
"I do not think it's a transparent process. It was only learned after the children were born, "he said.
He said his results could be used for millions of people with inherited diseases. He said he would monitor both newborns for the next 18 years and hoped that they would support continued surveillance eventually.
Shenzhen Harmonicare Medical Holdings Limited (1509.HK), reported by the media as being involved in the He project, tried to distance himself by stating that the hospital had never been involved in operations involving gene-modified babies and that no childbirth had occurred. occurred.
In a statement released Tuesday on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the group said preliminary investigations had revealed that the signatures on the application form distributed over the Internet were "presumed to have been falsified, and that no relevant meeting of the committee Medical ethics of the hospital of the fact occurred.
Additional report by Anne Marie Roantree; Edited by Nick Macfie