He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, addressed hundreds of scientists gathered at an worldwide gene-editing summit in Hong Kong that has been rocked by ethical questions swirling around his research. "I feel proud", He told a packed auditorium at the University of Hong Kong, whose skeptical listeners included scores of reporters as well as David Baltimore, chairman of the summit's organizing committee and the 1975 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine.
It is too early to tell if the second potential pregnancy will last, as He said it needs to be monitored carefully because it's in a very early stage.
It was unclear whether the pregnancy had ended or not.
Additionally, Dr. He adamantly denies that his research and work in gene editing serves the objective of the infamous "designer baby" concept.
He also said he had halted his clinical trials for the time being due to the uproar, but the 34-year-old scientist added he would consider altering the genes of his future children.
He claimed that with the CRISPR-edited DNA, the newborn twin girls are reportedly immune to HIV.
He claims to have used the gene editing tool to bestow a trait that few people born naturally have, an ability to resist future infection with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.
He, the Chinese researcher, said one twin had both copies of the intended gene altered while the other had just one altered.
Conference moderator Robin Lovell-Badge said He's trial was a "backward step" for the science industry, but described the babies' birth as "momentous" nonetheless.
More than 100 scientists, most in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China.
He said he altered the genetic instructions in two human embryos to try to make them resistant to HIV infections.
The move prompted a heated debate among the scientific community, with many raising concerns over the lack of verified data and the risks of exposing healthy embryos to gene editing. "If you had involved the Chinese authorities, they might have said you can't do it".
Upon questioning, He even dropped this bombshell: "There is another one, another potential pregnancy", suggesting that there could be a second pregnancy with gene-edited babies. Eight couples had agreed to take part in the study, though one had dropped out. Bioengineering Professor Michael Deem, who was the scientist's adviser when he studied in the United States, toldAP that he "absolutely" thinks the participants of the trials were fully aware of the risks involved. "There are still technical hurdles we have to solve", he said.
However, he said he would suspend such procedures for now. Attendees pressed him on whether his team acted ethically while obtaining consent from the trial participants, on how he could prove the test's effectiveness while maintaining its subjects' anonymity and on what his ongoing responsibility is to the innovative new babies. It does not mention that such an experiment has never been done before.
"I haven't seen any of the research and I don't know what he is planning to claim", Baltimore said. We only found out about it after it's happened and after the children are born.
According to an Associated Press report, He Jiankui said the father had the disease and the mother did not.