Just three days after Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the world by announcing that he had altered the genome of twin girls to make them more resistant to HIV, he claims that another gene-edited baby is on its way.
Jiankui announced this past Wednesday that there was another “potential pregnancy” while publicly defending his actions.
“If we have this technology, we can make it available earlier. We can help earlier those people in need,” he said at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong.
Speaking to Associated Press (AP) on November 26, the Shenzhen native explained that he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. At that point, the treatments only resulted in one conception. In each case, the father was HIV-positive and the mother was HIV negative. He declined to reveal the identities of the participants or where this experiment was conducted. He stated that his goal wasn’t to create a cure to HIV, but instead to create a genetic variation that would allow people to resist future infection, which is a trait some individuals already possess. He attempted to accomplish this by deleting a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9.
“Society will decide what to do next,” he told AP.
The twin girls born during Jiankui’s experiment will be able to pass on their modified genes to future generations, which has prompted condemnation from scientists and bioethicists. The procedure has been termed “premature”, “ethically problematic” and even “monstrous.” The Chinese Society for Cell Biology has castigated Jiankui for violating Chinese laws. Meanwhile, Jiankui’s university, the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUTC) has issued a statement saying it will launch an investigation into the research.
However, some scientists have decided to reserve judgement until they see more details on the experiment.