He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology claimed to create the world’s first genetically engineered babies in November 2018. He is now being detained in Shenzhen, China.
He Jiankui stunned the world with his claims of creating the world’s first genetically engineered babies at the 2nd International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hongkong. According to reports, He is being kept in the guesthouse of the university under surveillance.
He Jiankui has said that he performed the genetic modifications using CRISPR. He removed a gene that plays a major role in HIV virus transmission from twin girls named Lulu and Nana born in November 2018. CRISPR is a technology for editing genomes. Researchers can alter DNA sequences and modify gene function using CRISPR.
CRISPR is a technological breakthrough which may have a large impact on medicine and health. However, CRISPR has also raised serious ethical concerns. He Jiankui’s research has been largely condemned by the international scientist community and stated it to be against ethical standards.
The use of genome editing and associated technologies like CRISPR faces several concerns. The most important concern is about safety. It is possible that genome editing is performed in the wrong place. Also, it is possible that some cells carry the genome edit but others may not.
Scientists generally agree that “germline genome editing” is not deemed safe and should not be used for clinical reproductive purposes. Germline genome editing involves altering a fertilized embryo, sperm, or egg. Changes made through germline genome editing get passed on to children and their children.
He Jiankui’s research performed such a germline genome editing by removing a gene that plays a major role in HIV virus transmission. Scientists say that there are much simpler protective techniques to prevent newborn babies from HIV infection than He Jiankui’s research of altering the babies’ embryos.
This has led the Chinese government to restrict him in carrying out his research further and placing him under detention. University staff has been reportedly prohibited to talk anything about He Jiankui with the media or outsiders. He Jiankui is also involved with two startups based in China.