Defiant scientist defends gene-modified babies after international outcry

Chinese scientist Jiankui He met Wednesday for the first time in public with questions from the media and other researchers since the revelation of his team created the first gene edited human babies.

With some hesitation, he told the crowd at the Second International Summit on Human Genetic Modification in Hong Kong that more and more babies modified by the revolutionary CRISPR gene modification tool could arrive.

"There is another potential pregnancy," he said after presenting his work at the summit. But he warned that the pregnancy was at a very early stage.

The scientist had already gotten a niche to speak at the summit, but the slides that he had sent to event organizers in advance said nothing about the carry-over of human embryos modified by a gene. The story rather broke out via MIT Technology Review and it has YouTube videos just before the summit.

So when his place came on Wednesday, he was allowed to present the work that the many photographers, reporters and scientists in the room had already read in the news.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a biologist at the Francis Crick Institute, presented him with a strange warning that he reserved the right to cancel the session if there was too much disruption.

In the last 48 hours, many scientists have condemned the use of CRISPR / Cas9 on humans because of the many ethical issues at stake. The University of Science and Technology South of Shenzhen, where he works, also launched an investigation.

After a weird minute in which Lovell-Badge was silent on the podium while the summit staff was probably trying to locate the newcomer, the controversial scientist finally appeared and took the stage under the deafening scream of the camera shutters. The constant attack of lightning and shutters actually required an interruption and an announcement from the organizers.

His presentation was technical and difficult to decipher for the layman. The questions that followed were tense but calm and cordial.

The basic premise of the study is that seven couples volunteered to have embryos of their ovum and sperm genetically modified in the hope that the resulting children would be resistant to HIV. Each father participating in the trial was HIV-positive and each mother was HIV-negative.

The announcement that broke out earlier this week was that binoculars, dubbed Lulu and Nana, were born from one of the parent sets possessing the desired genetic modification.

"The plan is to monitor the health of the twins for the next 18 years with the hope that they will consent to continued surveillance and support in adulthood," he said. at the end of his prepared remarks.

The announcement of the twins' birth rocked the scientific community this week and CalTech biology professor David Baltimore, Nobel laureate and chairman of the summit's organizing committee, took the unusual step of starting the session of questions and answers with He taking a moment to call his work "irresponsible".

He explained the process of genetic modification of the embryos that were then brought to term and born as twins.

Screenshot of Eric Mack / CNET video screen

"I do not think it's a transparent process, we only found out that after and after the birth of the children, personally I do not think it was medically necessary," he said. Baltimore of the podium. on the other side of the stage. "I think the scientific community has failed because of a lack of transparency."

Baltimore pointed out that he spoke only for himself, adding that the security issues and the "general consensus of society" had not yet been resolved on the issue of the publishing of & dquo; Human embryos.

He was first elusive when asked if there were any other genetically modified pregnancies going on, claiming that the trial was "suspended due to [the] current situation "

When later pressed again, he admitted that there was another potential pregnancy.

CRISPR pioneer David Liu of the Broad Institute was the first to ask a question to the public. Liu also stated that he did not see the medical necessity of the procedure since he had used other measures, including the "sperm wash", to ensure that the HIV-positive father did not do not transmit the virus to the mother or offspring. Sperm washing ensures that the contaminated sperm does not stick to the sperm and thus contaminates the embryo.

He replied that the trial concerned not only Lulu and Nana's parents, but also millions of children in need of protection against HIV, for which it currently does not exist no vaccine. He talked about visiting villages in China where 30% of children are HIV-positive.

"They must even give their children to their parents or uncles so that they just raise them to prevent the risk of transmission," he said.

As for Lulu and Nana, it may take a little while before the world can meet them. He said that they would probably remain anonymous because of Chinese laws revealing the identity of people living with HIV.

This is certainly not the last we will hear from Him, however.

He stated that his research had been submitted to peer-reviewed journals for later publication.

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