Scientist who gene-edited babies seeking work after jail time
A Chinese scientist who sparked ethical controversy five years ago with claims he created the world’s first gene-edited baby said Tuesday he wants to study a rare genetic disease in Hong Kong.
In 2018, He Jiankui shocked the world by announcing that he had modified the embryos of twin girls. Many in the scientific community criticized his work as unethical. He was convicted of unlicensed medical practice by a mainland Chinese court in 2019 and sentenced to three years in prison and he was fined three million yuan (US$445,000).
On Tuesday, ten months after his release, he announced in Beijing that he had obtained a Hong Kong visa and was in contact with universities, research institutes and companies in the financial hub.
He said he would consider working in Hong Kong if the opportunity arose and plans to research gene therapy for rare genetic disorders.
“My scientific research complies with the Code of Ethics and International Consensus on Scientific Research,” he said in a brief press conference.
His 2018 publication sparked a global debate about the ethics of gene editing. In an interview with The Associated Press, he used a tool called CRISPR-cas9 to try to disable the gene that allows HIV to enter cells in order to give the baby the ability to resist AIDS.
CRISPR-cas9 tools have been tested elsewhere in adults to treat diseases, but much of the scientific community is skeptical that genetic changes could be passed on to future generations, so his work is It has been criticized as medically unnecessary and unethical.
In 2019, a Chinese court in Shenzhen ruled that he did not qualify as a doctor, pursued fame and profit, willfully violated Chinese regulations on scientific research, and was ethical in both scientific research and medicine. convicted him of crossing the line. The court also said his project involved his three gene-edited babies born to his two women, confirming a third birth.
He was released last April and was invited to speak at Oxford University next month. However, he wrote on Twitter this month that he was not ready to talk about his experience over the past three years and decided to cancel his visit.
He invited about six media organizations to a press conference on Tuesday, but left after reading a statement for about two minutes.
In a subsequent written response, he said he planned to establish an ethics advisory board to scrutinize future work and ensure the process was open and transparent.
He said he plans to study Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder he says often causes death from heart or lung failure at about age 20. Instead, gene therapy might help, he said.
“We hope to use AI tools to evolve the adeno-associated virus capsid to improve the efficiency of gene therapy and significantly reduce the cost of gene therapy, making it affordable for each family. I am,” he said.
In Hong Kong, He’s visa granted under a new program to acquire global talent has raised concerns that the recipient may have a criminal record.
Hong Kong’s Labor Minister Chris Sun declined to comment on individual cases but acknowledged that applicants are not required to disclose their criminal record during the application process. said that it must be done from Wednesday.