Chinese authorities have confirmed that the highly controversial pregnancy involving CRISPR-edited genes last year was not the only case.
Late last year, the global science community was shocked and outraged when a Chinese geneticist named He Jiankui announced the birth of twin girls whose genetic code had been altered using the technology called CRISPR.
The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) scientist had followed up this announcement with a presentation at the International Genome Editing Summit where he proclaimed he felt “proud” of the same accomplishment that some scientists have described as an “appalling act that threatens to set back the field of therapeutic genome editing”.
At the time, He said that there had been “another potential pregnancy” using the same CRISPR technology and now, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency (via The Guardian), Chinese authorities have confirmed the existence of this second woman.
The discovery was made following a provincial government investigation, and the expectant mother – along with the first mother of the twins – will be kept under medical observation. The investigation said He had “forged ethical review papers” and “deliberately evaded supervision”.
A scientist who knows He personally believes that the foetus could be no more than 14 weeks old at this stage.
Authorities also found that He had organised foreign staff to help him evade detection by his university with the intention of “pursuing personal fame” for his work. A total of eight couples – with HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers – signed up for He’s trials, with one couple dropping out of the experiment.
Following his detention by state police last year, He was kept under house arrest at an apartment based at SUSTech and now he will be “dealt with seriously according to the law”. Not only that, but his scientific career appears to be permanently tarnished with SUSTech confirming his employment had been terminated. Scientists have also called for an international treaty on gene editing as a direct result of his actions.