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Chinese Scientist Defends His Gene-edited Babies, Claims a Third Is on the Way

November 28, 2018, 11:20 AM UTC

The Chinese biologist who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies, told a conference Wednesday that a third gene-edited baby is on the way. He Jiankui, of Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, added that — despite the controversy — he is “proud” of the claimed achievement, Reuters reported.

He’s work, revealed Monday by Technology Review, involved editing twin baby’s genes to resist infection by HIV. It is still pending scientific peer review and many biologists have criticized the ethics of the experiment. He said he has now paused the study, which began with eight couples, to closely follow the twins and the other gene-edited fetus. In each case, the father carried HIV and the mother did not.

The work by He is more controversial than other types of gene editing because it involves the CRISPR method, which means the babies would pass on their biological alterations to any future children, altering the human gene pool.

Most of the institutions involved, ranging from the hospital where the work took place to He’s own university, from which he is on unpaid leave, distanced themselves from the research. The hospital claims that signatures on the medical ethics forms were forged, while his university and the Chinese authorities are both investigating the ethics.

Speaking at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, Wednesday, He also revealed that he was conducting a parallel gene-editing experiment on abandoned human embryos, the South China Morning Post reported. This is also controversial as scientists say that He should have conducted this research — and many other studies — before moving on to living babies.

Evoking Dolly the cloned sheep, Derrick Au Kit-sing, director of Chinese University’s Center for Bioethics told the SCMP, “You cannot say that you succeeded in cloning the sheep, then jump to clone human beings directly. There is a huge gap.”

Bioethicist Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin raised an entirely different point. “The children were already at virtually no risk of contracting HIV because it was the father and not the mother who was infected,” she said at the conference.