Chinese professor He Jiankui, the scientist who made global headlines after claiming to have created the first gene-edited babies, finally addressed the controversy during a genome summit in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Responding to questions from the media and his peers during the event, the Southern University of Science and Technology researcher defended his experiment and revealed a second pregnancy.
While He offered his apologies for the controversy his experiment has generated, the scientist defended his work, expressing pride in what it accomplished.
“First, I must apologize that this result leaked unexpectedly, taking it away from the community before being presented immediately at a scientific venue and without the peer review process engaged before this conference,” said He.
When pressed by some of his peers at the conference, he noted: “For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest.”
The statement comes after two days of silence following the release of a video in which he claimed that he had engineered the birth of HIV-immune twin girls.
During the event He also announced an additional claim: “There is another one… another potential pregnancy.”
He described it as a chemical pregnancy, which meant that there had been an early miscarriage. No further details were provided about it.
During the summit, He’s peers questioned the necessity of the experiment and reminded him of his responsibility for the lives of the gene-edited children.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awardee Professor David Baltimore, who organized the summit, accused He of being irresponsible with the clinical use of germ line editing with unaddressed safety issues without universal consensus.
“I don’t think it has been a transparent process. We only found out about it after it happened, and after the children were born,” Baltimore said on stage. “I personally don’t think it was medically necessary.”
Biochemist David Liu, the scientist who co-invented the CRISPR/Cas9 technology that He said he used in his experiment, also noted that it was unnecessary.
“The father is HIV positive and the mother is HIV negative. You already did sperm washing, and thus you already could generate uninfected embryos that could give rise to uninfected babies,” Liu pointed out.
Challenged to prove that the participants knew all of the risks involved, He claimed that all of them had a “good education background” and were subjected to two rounds of discussions with him and his team.
Earlier this week, the Chinese government ordered a probe into the incident, while the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen issued a statement saying He’s conduct in “utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to edit human embryos has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct.”
Featured image via YouTube/ CGTN