Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims to have used “CRISPR technology” to such an end. We can only hope for the health of the two childrenby Philip Ball / November 27, 2018 / Leave a comment
The Associated Press and other outlets have reported that Chinese scientist He Jiankui, working at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, used genome-editing technology on human IVF embryos and implanted them in seven women, resulting in the births of two twin girls a few weeks ago.
He made this sensational (in all senses) claim at a press conference in Hong Kong on 26th November, adding that “society will decide what to do next.” So far, the announcement, for which there is as yet no documented evidence, has been greeted with both scepticism and outrage. It is not clear where He did the research or with what funding; his university says that the research was not conducted there and had no official approval, and that He and his colleagues have been suspended without pay. 122 Chinese scientists have apparently put out a statement condemning the work and saying that it will damage China’s reputation for responsible research in this field (a reputation that, contrary to what is sometimes asserted, is largely justified).
Quite aside from the ethical issues, should we even believe it in the first place?
Stem-cell science and embryology are rife with false claims. Most notoriously, maverick doctors have claimed since the early 2000s to have created human babies by cloning, but never with any more credibility than we should attach to the announcement of that feat in 2002 by Clonaid—a company run by the Raelian cult, which happens to believe humans are descended from aliens.
Rather more believable was the claim by the South Korean biologist Woo Suk Hwang in 2004 that he had cloned a human embryo to derive stem cells from it. Stem cells are the embryonic cells that may grow into any tissue type in the body. Hwang’s high-profile publication was found to be based on totally fraudulent results, and in 2009 he was given a two-year prison sentence for bioethical violations and embezzlement. Then in 2014 Japanese researchers led by stem-cell pioneer Yoshiki Sasai claimed to be able to convert the mature cells of adult mice, which had developed into a particular tissue type, back to fully versatile stem cells simply by exposing them to some kind of chemical stress, such as an acid. This result too was found to have used manipulated data. Sasai, although cleared of direct…