Second women confirmed pregnant with genetically edited baby

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A second woman became pregnant during the experiment to create the world’s first genetically edited babies, Chinese authorities have confirmed, as the researcher behind the claim faces a police investigation. The Guardian reports that He Jiankui shocked the scientific community last year after announcing he had successfully altered the genes of twin girls born in November to prevent them contracting HIV.

He had told a human genome forum in Hong Kong there had been “another potential pregnancy” involving a second couple. The report says a provincial government investigation has since confirmed the existence of the second mother and that the woman was still pregnant. The expectant mother and the twin girls from the first pregnancy will be put under medical observation, an investigator is quoted in the report as saying.

The provincial government investigation found He had “forged ethical review papers” and “deliberately evaded supervision”, according to reports. He had privately organised a project team that included foreign staff and used “technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness” for illegal human embryo gene-editing, it said. Investigators said the scientist was “pursuing personal fame” and used “self-raised funds” for the controversial experiment.

The report says eight volunteer couples – HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers – signed up to He’s trial, investigators found, with one couple later dropping out. Details of the experiment – which the report says has not been independently verified – triggered an immediate backlash from the global scientific community and the Chinese government ordered a halt to He’s research work days after it was publicly announced. Such gene-editing work is banned in most countries, including China.

Speaking at the genome summit in Hong Kong in November, He said he was “proud” of the experiment, given the stigma affecting Aids patients in the country. The report says the public outcry over his experiment also drew attention to the growing HIV epidemic in China, which has seen a drastic surge in new cases in recent years.

The scientist was educated at Stanford University and recruited back to China as part of Beijing’s “Thousand Talents Plan” to reverse brain drain, according to a copy of He’s resume published on the website of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen. SUSTech is quoted in the report as saying it had terminated the researcher’s employment after earlier saying He’s work had “seriously violated academic ethics”.

Following the storm sparked by He’s announcement, scientists have called for an international treaty on gene-editing.

The Guardian report

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