A scientist who claims he edited the genes of twin babies to give them resistance to HIV made his first public appearance since the existence of the babies became public — and came out swinging in defense of his research, which has been almost universally criticized by researchers and bio-ethicists.
“For this specific case, I feel proud,” said Jiankui He at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong, according to a transcript.
He said that before the procedure, the parents had “lost hope for life” because the father was HIV positive. But afterwards, the man “sent a message saying he will work hard, earn money, and take care of his two daughters and his wife for this life,” according to He.
He, who lives in China and worked with Rice University researcher Michael Deem to gene hack an embryo using CRISPR and implant it back into the mother, said that he and his collaborators would continue to monitor the twins’ health for at least 18 years and, if given consent, into their adulthood.
He also dropped another bomb during the summit: There’s a second “potential pregnancy” on the way, though it is still in an early phase.
After his prepared remarks, questioners grilled He about the ethical dimensions of his work, how it was reviewed, and whether the parents of the babies provided informed consent.
He seemed mostly confident, but occasionally appeared to squirm. He provided a vague answer, for instance, when an audience member asked whether he planned to publish the identities of the twins.
“It is against Chinese law to disclose the identity of HIV positive people in public,” he said. “Second, for this couple, it’s under careful monitoring. I will propose that the data should be open and available to experts.”
READ MORE: Chinese Scientist Who Says He Edited Babies’ Genes Defends His Work [New York Times]
More on gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time