Chinese geneticists reveal a pregnancy gene & # 39; other potentially edited


HONG KONG: A Chinese scientist at the center of an ethical storm over what he claims to be the first genetically edited baby, said Wednesday that he was proud of his work and revealed there was a second "potential" pregnancy as part of the research.

He Jiankui, a professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, spoke at the meeting room of around 700 people attending the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong.

"For this case, I feel proud. I feel most proud," he said, when challenged by several colleagues at the conference.

Asked if there were other edited pregnancy genes as part of the trial, He said there was another "potential" pregnancy and answered "yes" to the follow-up question about whether it was "chemical pregnancy", which refers to early stage miscarriages.

It is not clear whether the pregnancy has ended or not.

He, who said his work was self-funded, ignored fears that the research was conducted in secret, explaining that he had involved the scientific community for the past three years.

"This study has been submitted to scientific journals for review," he said. He did not name the journal and said that his university was not aware of his studies.

In a video posted online this week, He said he used the editing technology of a gene known as CRISPR-Cas9 to change the embryonic genes of twins born this month.

He said editing genes would help protect girls from HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS.

But Chinese scientists and the government have criticized the work He said he did, and a hospital that is related to his research suggests that his ethical approval has been falsified.

The conference moderator, Robin Lovell-Badge, said organizers of the summit didn't know the story until it broke out this week.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to cut and paste DNA, increasing hopes of genetic improvement for disease. However, there are concerns about security and ethics.

The Chinese Society for Cell Biology in a statement on Tuesday strongly condemned any gene editing application on human embryos for reproductive purposes and said that it was against Chinese medical law and ethics.

More than 100 scientists, mostly in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit human embryo genes was dangerous and unjustified. "The Pandora's box has been opened," they said.


He, who said he was opposed to an increase in genes, said eight couples were initially registered for their studies while one had dropped out. These criteria require the father to be HIV positive and the mother to be HIV negative.

Scientists at the conference pressed him to prove that those who took part in the trial were aware of all the risks involved in the process.

He said that all participants had a good educational background and through two rounds of discussion with him and his team.

The 23-page English translation of the informed consent form for potential mothers said that the procedure costs covered by the team would reach 280,000 yuan (US $ 40,200) per couple.

The consent form mentions many risks, but there is little detail on potential complications from the editing process of the gene itself, including for children. It was not stated that such experiments had never been done before.

David Baltimore, President Emeritus and Robert Andrews Millikan, Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, spoke after his speech said that it was not responsible to continue until the safety problem was settled.

"I don't think it's a transparent process. Just knowing about it after that happens and children are born," Baltimore said.

He Jiankui said the results could be used for millions of people with inherited diseases. He said he would monitor the two newborn babies for the next 18 years and hoped they would support further monitoring thereafter.

Shenzhen Harmonicare Medical Holdings Limited, referred to as involved in the project in the Chinese clinical trial registry, tried to distance itself by stating the hospital had never participated in any gene-related baby-related operations and no related deliveries had occurred.

In a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Tuesday, the group said a preliminary investigation indicating signatures on an application form circulating on the internet "was suspected of being falsified, and there was no relevant meeting from the hospital's Medical Ethics Committee. Take place".

The Guangdong Provincial Health Commission announced on its website on Wednesday that the city and Shenzhen had formed a joint team to investigate the case.

(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong, Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Alexandra Harney in Shanghai; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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