The creator of the CRISPR Babies has been released from a Chinese prison

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

It is unclear whether he plans to return to scientific research in China or another country. Those who know him have described the biophysicist, trained at Rice University and Stanford, as idealistic, naive, and ambitious.

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

The existence of the CRISPR baby project was exposed by MIT Technology Review on the eve of the International Genome-Editing Summit held in Hong Kong in November 2018. Following our report, he immediately posted several videos on YouTube announcing the birth of twins, which he called Lula and Nana.

The experiment was strongly condemned around the world and within China. Scientists say the use of genome editing serves little medical purpose and could lead to errors in girls’ genomes.

A description of his experiments was never published in any scientific journal. The MIT Technology Review later obtained draft copies of his paper, which one expert described as puzzling with “horrific scientific and ethical flaws.”

The researcher spent nearly three years in China’s prison system, including the time he spent in detention before being convicted. Since his release, he has been in contact with members of his scientific network in China and abroad.

When the responsibility for the experiment fell on him and other members of the Chinese team, many other scientists knew about the project and encouraged it. Participants in the experiment included Michael Deem, a former professor at Rice University, and John Zhang, head of a large IVF clinic in New York, who planned to commercialize the technology.

Dime left his post at Rice in 2020, but the university has never released any findings or disclosures about his involvement in children’s creation. Dim’s LinkedIn profile now lists employment with the energy consulting company he started.

“It simply came to our notice then [He Jiankui] And some of his colleagues were imprisoned for the experiment, “says Eben Kirksy, an associate professor and author at the Alfred Deakin Institute in Australia. The Mutant Project, A book about He’s experiment which includes interviews with some participants. “Many at the same time [his] The involvement of international collaborators – such as Michael Deem and John Zhang – has never been approved or formally condemned. “

“In many ways justice has not been done,” says Kirksi.

He paid a heavy price. He was fired from his university job, separated from his wife and young children, and spent time in a prison far from his hometown in Shenzhen.

His sentencing appears to have delayed further experiments on gene acquisition for childbearing, certainly in China. In the U.S., this practice is effectively prohibited by legislation that prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from approving such studies.

There is also the question of justice for the three children born as a result of the experiment, whose identities have not been revealed. Their parents agreed to join the experiment because the father of all the children had HIV and otherwise they would not have had access to IVF under Chinese rules.

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

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

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