At an global summit on human gene editing in 2015, a Chinese science official said despite strict regulations there on genome editing in human embryos, he couldn't guarantee that rogue labs and clinics weren't conducting experiments outside of those bounds.
Thus far, He hasn't published any scientific papers on his work for his peers to review.
But the claim "really reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene-editing in human embryos to settings where there's a clear unmet medical need and where there's no alternative viable approach", says Doudna. But, according to the Associated Press, other researchers denounced the research as human experimentation. "This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit", he says. But the announcement - yet to be verified - has quickly become mired in a deluge of scientific and ethical criticism of He as a reckless researcher who overstepped well-established boundaries. Gene-editing of human embryos is sanctioned in the United States, but all embryos must be destroyed within a few days. Sangamo Therapeutics In., a firm that uses a gene-editing platform known as Zinc finger nuclease, rose as much as 3.4 percent. Such is the case with these twins in China, who - if they are indeed genetically modified - will pass modified DNA down to any children they have.
Qiu Renzong, a bioethicist and emeritus professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, said He's decision to work outside established and supervised scientific protocols could taint the reputation of Chinese science.
Doudna also cited the worldwide consensus reached in 2015.
The gene editing was allegedly done during IVF, a process in which a sperm fertilizes an egg in a laboratory, and the embryo is implanted in a womb. Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts.
Feng Zhang, a molecular biologist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the inventors of the Crispr technology, called for the results to be made public so the science community could examine He's work. In all, some seven couples participated in the procedure. However, only one twin had both copies of their gene altered, while the other had just one altered. In one of those videos, He strongly objects to calling children whose genes have been edited "designer babies" and answers his own question, "Why HIV?" with "safety and value", noting that 100 million people have a "natural genetic variation" in the gene CCR5 that he altered with what he calls "gene surgery".
He's unverified claim came on the eve of an global summit dedicated to discussing the emerging science and ethics around powerful tools that give scientists unprecedented potential to tweak traits and eliminate genetic diseases - but that have raised fears of "designer babies".
Speaking to the AP, Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert, said in this particular child, "there really was nearly nothing to be gained in terms of protection against HIV and yet you're exposing that child to all the unknown safety risks", adding that the entire enterprise is "unconscionable" and "an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible".
The scientist is slated to speak at a session on human embryo editing at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing on Wednesday in Hong Kong.
If that's not enough, this story gets even murkier.
Qiu said He's university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, had rejected his request to perform the experiment.
Brown suggests this questions the true intentions of the research, that it was meant to test the safety and efficacy of the technology.
The university said the academic council of its biology department, where He works as an associate professor, thinks that the research seriously violated academic ethics and rules.
An American scientist has also reportedly taken part in the experiment in China. Their DNA was altered with CRISPR-Cas9 to resist the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he said. In this sense, the procedure (if it happened in the way He is claiming), might be considered an enhancement rather than a therapy.
A Chinese official on Tuesday emphasised at a press briefing that China had outlawed the use of gene-editing for fertility purposes in 2003.
Unfortunately, the brazen recklessness exhibited by He will now place a dark taint on that futuristic prospect.