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Scientist Behind Gene-Edited Babies Speaks, to Condemnation

He Jiankui speaks publicly about the allegedly genetically edited babies
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2018 8:09 AM CST
He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. He claims that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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(Newser) – The Chinese researcher who has rattled the scientific world with his claim that he created the world's first genetically edited babies spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, and he made a revelation, though an unclear one at that. While speaking at the Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong, He Jiankui was asked if his trials included other pregnancies like that which resulted in the birth of twins Lulu and Nana, whose DNA he claims to have altered to make them resistant to HIV. The answer was yes, but it's murky: The AP reports he said the pregnancy was in its early weeks and therefore unclear if it will last. Reuters describes He as calling it a "potential" pregnancy but then answering in the affirmative when asked if it was a "chemical pregnancy," which means an early miscarriage. Reuters reports the status of the pregnancy is unclear.

"I feel proudest," He said of his work. The BBC reports that He said seven couples—in each case the father was HIV-positive—voluntarily agreed to participate in his trial, and that he zeroed in on HIV, rather than a fatal inherited disease, because no vaccine exists for it. But a bioethicist points out to NPR that the twins' risk of inheriting HIV was next to nil because the mother was not infected. An ethics expert was one of many condemning the choice: "This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit." The DNA changes are inheritable: As NPR puts it, "a mistake could introduce a new disease that could be passed down for generations." Officials in China's Guangdong province, as well as He's employer, Southern University of Science and Technology of China, are investigating. (Read more genetics stories.)

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