University to assess how much its staff knew about Chinese scientist’s plans to use Crispr to modify genes
Stanford University has begun an investigation following claims some of its staff knew long ago of Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s plans to create the world’s first gene-edited babies.
A university official said a review was under way of interactions some faculty members had with He, who was educated at Stanford. Several professors including He’s former research adviser have said they knew or strongly suspected He wanted to try gene editing on embryos intended for pregnancy.
The genetic scientist sparked global outcry after he claimed in a video posted on YouTube in November 2018 that he had used the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9 to modify a particular gene in two embryos before they were placed in their mother’s womb. He – who works from a lab in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen – said the twin girls, known as Lulu and Nana, were born through regular IVF but using an egg that was modified before being inserted into the womb. He focused on HIV infection prevention because the girls’ father is HIV positive. “Now he has a reason to live, a reason to work, [he] has purpose,” He said.
Editing the genes of embryos, which can alter other genes, is banned in many countries because DNA changes are passed to future generations and could have unforeseen effects on the entire gene pool.
After a barrage of criticism, China’s national health commission ordered officials to “seriously investigate and verify” He’s claims. Shenzhen’s health and family planning commission said it was investigating the ethica vetting and review process around He’s work.
Research institutions connected to He have distanced themselves from him. “This research work was carried out by Professor He Jiankui outside of the school,” said the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. It called his research a “serious violation of academic ethics and norms”.