Chinese authorities have confirmed that a second woman is pregnant with a baby that had its genes edited by the scientist He Jiankui.
He made headlines around the world when he announced in November last year that he had conducted a clinical trial that involved editing the genes of embryos.
Initial investigations by Chinese authorities indicate He falsified ethical approvals to gain the trust of eight couples that were made of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers.
Two of the couples became pregnant, one has already given birth to twins and another baby is on the way. Onc couple pulled out of the study, while the remaining five did not succeed in becoming pregnant.
Babies may be HIV resistant
He has said the only gene that he edited using the CRISPR technology was to ensure the babies would be immune from the HIV virus.
An investigator told the official Chinese news outlet Xinhua that the expectant mother and the twin girls from the first pregnancy will be put under medical observation.
He did not provide scientific evidence to back up the claims nor has his claims been yet to be independently verified. However, the information provided by Dr. He has been enough for the scientific community to condemn his actions as unethical.
He did present some evidence about the twin girls “Lulu” and “Nana” at a genetics conference in Hong Kong, he did make his data publicly available nor did he attempt to punish his findings in a scientific journal.
China condemns work of Doctor He
China has indicated that his work was illegal and that they intend to press charges. He was employed at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen at the time of his research.
The university was quick to condemn his actions and indicated that Dr. He was on unpaid leave while he conducted the trials. He defended his actions at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28, 2018, in Hong Kong.
Saying he was ‘proud’ of his work. Dr. He was reportedly educated at Stanford University and returned to China under the “Thousand Talents Plan” to reverse brain drain.
Human genome editing using CRISPR is illegal in most countries including China. Scientists say the technology which allows the removal and replacement of genes with precision is still too new to be used on humans.
CRISPR technology still too new for humans
Particularly when there is little known about how the modified genes will present in future generations.
The incident has sparked worldwide interest with many bioethicists and scientists calling for tighter controls on CRISPR technology and more transparency into genome trials.
Exactly what penalties He may face from Chinese authorities is unclear. Wang Yue, a health law research at Peking University, spoke to the New York Times describing how China feeds to use this incident as an opportunity to enact stricter regulations as traditionally, “the legal responsibility is unclear and the penalties are very light.”