Tuesday, 23 April, 2024
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Scientist who gene-edited babies back in lab

China’s He Jiankui, the scientist who used CRISPR to create the world’s first genetically-edited babies and then spent three years in prison, said he had resumed research on human embryo genome editing.

He Jiankui said he was working on the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other genetic diseases, despite the controversy over the ethics of artificially rewriting genes, which some critics predicted would lead to demand for “designer babies”.

In 2019, a court in China sentenced him to three years in prison for violating medical regulations after he claimed the previous year that he had created genetically modified twin sisters Lulu and Nana before birth.

He said he had used a gene-editing procedure known as CRISPR-Cas9 to rewrite the DNA in the sisters’ embryos – modifications he claimed would make the children immune to HIV.

The Guardian reports that He was widely condemned for having gone ahead with the risky, ethically contentious and medically unjustified procedure without adequate consent from the families involved.

The court found that He had forged documents from an ethics review panel that were used to recruit couples for his research.

He has continued to defend his work, despite widespread criticism, saying he was “proud” of having created Lulu and Nana. A third girl was born in 2019 as a result of similar experiments.

He told a Japanese newspaper last week that that he hoped to use genome editing in human embryos to develop treatments for rare genetic diseases – like Duchenne muscular dystrophy and familial Alzheimer’s disease – at three laboratories he has opened since his release from prison in 2022.

He said the three genome-edited children were “perfectly healthy and that the twins, now aged five, were attending kindergarten.

“The results of analysing (the children’s) entire gene sequences show that there were no modifications to the genes other than for the medical objective, providing evidence that genome editing was safe,” he said.

Last year, He told The Guardian he had acted “too quickly” by pressing ahead with the procedure, but stopped short of voicing regret or apologising.

He said society would “eventually accept” human embryo gene editing in the quest to find treatments for genetic diseases.


The Guardian article – Scientist who gene-edited babies is back in lab and ‘proud’ of past work despite jailing (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Chinese gene-editing scientist aims to cure Alzheimer’s


Doubts and outrage over genetically edited babies claims


Chinese declare that gene-editing scientist is breaking the law

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