‘Chinese Frankenstein’ missing? Whereabouts of scientist who created gene-edited babies unknown
He Jiankui shocked the scientific community last week when he announced that he had manipulated the DNA of twin girls, allegedly making them resistant to the HIV virus — although other scientists have said it is too early to tell if the procedure was actually successful. The editing was done during fertility treatments for a couple in which the father is HIV-positive.Also on rt.com Gene editing: What is it and should we worry?
Now, the scientist seems to have disappeared amid rumors that he has been detained by Chinese authorities, which denounced his work and ordered an investigation into his trials. The scientist reportedly has not been seen in public since delivering a speech at a scientific conference last Wednesday.
Responding to speculative media reports, a spokesperson for his employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said that rumors of his detention by authorities are untrue. “Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are," the spokesperson said, adding that the university would make no further comments on the whereabouts of the former Stanford University postdoctoral fellow.
He claims that the twin girls were born “normal and healthy” and says he is “proud” of the work he did for the seven couples in his trials, but scientists and researchers from across the world criticized his efforts, saying it stretched ethical limits and was not conducted transparently. The controversial gene-editing could potentially even make the babies less resistant to some other illnesses, they said. The work even earned him the nickname ‘Chinese Frankenstein.’
To conduct the human experiment, He used a tool called CRISPR-cas9 which has been used before to treat certain diseases, but never to determine what could be passed onto a baby.
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