His team from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen took advantage CRISPRa versatile genetic engineering tool, to alter girls ’DNA to be resistant to HIV infection.
It is unclear whether he plans to return to scientific research in China or another country. People who know him have described the biophysicist, who was educated at Rice University and Stanford, as idealistic, naive and ambitious.
Before his world collapsed around him, he believed he had created a new way to “control the HIV epidemic” that would be considered for the Nobel Prize.
Existence CRISPR project for babies revealed the MIT Technology Review ahead of the Hong Kong International Summit on Genome Editing, held in November 2018. Following our report, he immediately posted several videos on YouTube announcing the birth of twins, named Lula and Nana.
The experiment met with fierce criticism around the world and within China. The scientists said that the use of genome editing had no medical purpose and could have introduced errors into the genome of girls.
His description of the experiments was never published in any scientific journal. MIT Technology Review later received a draft copy of his workwhich one expert said was imbued with “blatant scientific and ethical errors. ”
The researcher spent about three years in the Chinese prison system, including a period spent in custody pending trial. Since his release, he has been in contact with members of his scientific network in China and abroad.
While the responsibility for the experiment fell on He and other members of the Chinese team, many other scientists knew about the project and encouraged it. Among them are Michael Deem, a former professor at Rice University who participated in the experiment, and John Zhang, head of the large IVF clinic in New York who had plans to commercialize the technology.
Deem left his post at Rice in 2020, but the university has never released any findings or explanations about its involvement in creating babies. Deem’s LinkedIn profile now lists employment with an energy consulting company he started.
“It is extraordinary and unusual [He Jiankui] and some of his colleagues have been imprisoned for this experiment, ”says Eben Kirksey, an associate professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute in Australia and author of the book. Mutant Project, a book about Heo ‘s experiment that includes interviews with some of the participants. “At the same time many of [his] international collaborators – such as Michael Deem and John Zhang – have never been sanctioned or formally convicted of involvement. “
“In many ways, justice is not served,” Kirksey said.
He, who has a wife and children, paid a high price. He was fired from his university job and spent time in a prison far from his hometown of Shenzhen,
His sentence seems to have delayed further experiments to edit genes to create babies, certainly in China. In the U.S., the procedure is effectively prohibited by law that prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from approving such a study.
There is also the issue of justice for three children born as a result of an experiment, whose identities are not public. Their parents agreed to join the experiment because the fathers of all the children had HIV and otherwise would not have had access to IVF under Chinese rules.
In February, according to a report in Nature, two senior Chinese bioethicists called on the Chinese government create a CRISPR research program to monitor children’s health. They classified children as a “vulnerable group” and called for genetic analysis to determine if their bodies contain genetic defects that could be passed on to future generations.
Kirksey says study participants were not treated fairly. They have been promised health insurance plans for their children, but he says that amid the controversy, “insurance plans have not been issued and health bills have not been paid”.