Creator of CRISPR Babies released from Chinese prison

His team at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen used CRISPR, a versatile genetic engineering tool, to change the girls’ DNA to make them resistant to HIV infection.

It is not clear if he plans to return to scientific research in China or elsewhere. The biophysicist, educated at Rice University and Stanford, is described by people who know him as idealistic, naive and ambitious.

Before his world around him collapsed, He believed he had created a new way to “control the HIV epidemic” that would be considered for a Nobel Prize.

The existence of the children’s CRISPR project was revealed by MIT Technology Review ahead of the Hong Kong International Genome Editing Summit in November 2018. whom he called Lula and Nana.

The experiment was met with harsh criticism around the world and within China. The scientists said the use of genome editing was of little medical value and could have introduced errors into the girls’ genomes.

His description of the experiments has never been published in any scientific journal. The MIT Technology Review later received drafts of his paper, which one expert said was riddled with “egregious scientific and ethical errors.”

The researcher spent about three years in China’s prison system, including a period spent in custody awaiting trial. After his release, he kept in touch with members of his scientific network in China and abroad.

Although responsibility for the experiment fell to He and other members of the Chinese team, many other scientists were aware of the project and encouraged it. Among them are Michael Deem, a former Rice University professor who participated in the experiment, and John Zhang, head of a major IVF clinic in New York City, who planned to commercialize the technology.

Diệm left his post at Rice in 2020, but the university has yet to release any findings or explanation for his involvement in the creation of the babies. Dim’s LinkedIn profile now lists a job at the energy consulting company he founded.

“It is amazing and unusual that [He Jiankui] and some of his colleagues were imprisoned for this experiment,” says Eben Kirksey, associate professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute in Australia and author of the book Mutant Project, a book about He’s experiment, including 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 condemned for their involvement.”

“In many ways, justice has not been served,” says Kirksey.

He who has a wife and children has paid a high price. He was fired from his university job and spent time in a prison far from his hometown in Shenzhen.

His punishment appears to have delayed further gene-editing experiments to create children, especially in China. In the US, this procedure is effectively prohibited by law, which prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from approving such a study.

It also raises the question of fairness for the three children born of the experiment, whose identities have not been released. Their parents agreed to join the experiment because the fathers of all the children were HIV-positive and would otherwise not have had access to IVF under Chinese rules.

In February, according to a news report in Nature, two senior Chinese bioethicists called on the Chinese government to create a research program to monitor the health of children CRISPR. They classified children as a “vulnerable group” and called for genetic analysis to determine if their bodies contain genetic errors that they could pass on to future generations.

Kirksey says the study participants were treated unfairly. They were promised health insurance plans for their children, but he says that amid controversy, “insurance plans were not issued and medical bills remained unpaid.”

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