A Chinese scientist is proud of his gene editing work, although he has been accused of a secretive, irresponsible and dangerous attitude.
He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, used a gene-editing technology to alter the genes of twin girls born last month. It is the first known case of using such technology in human embryos.
Dr He said the altered genes would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
His announcement was made at a conference in Hong Kong. Organisers of the conference claim they were previously unaware of He’s work.
More than 100 scientists have published an open letter saying the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology on humans was dangerous and unjustified. The critics include Chinese scientists, even He’s university, which says it did not know of his work and is launching an investigation.
China's National Health Commission issued a statement on its website saying it was highly concerned and has ordered an official investigation.
It has not yet been possible to verify the claims, as Dr He has not provide any written documentation of his research, which was carried out at his expense while on voluntary leave. He says the study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review, but did not specify the journal.
Dr He says he understands his work will be controversial, but he believes families need this technology and is willing to take the criticism for their sakes.
Another volunteer is reportedly pregnant as part of the research.