A second woman is pregnant with a gene-edited baby, according to Chinese authorities investigating He Jiankui, the researcher who says he successfully edited the genes of twin girls born in November – a scientific first.
He, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangdong province, remains under investigation by local authorities.
The investigation confirmed that a second woman was pregnant.
Investigators told Xinhua, the official state news agency, that both the babies already born – known as Lula and Nana – and the second mother would be put under medical observation.
Investigators told Xinhua that He raised funding and evaded official supervision “in pursuit of personal fame and fortune” to conduct the human embryonic gene editing, which is banned by Chinese law.
From March 2017 to November 2018, he recruited eight volunteer couples – all HIV positive males and HIV negative females to take part in the trial.
Investigators said he forged ethical review documents. Two woman became pregnant, five women did not, and one quit the trial.
Xinhua reported: “This behaviour seriously violates ethics and morality, harms the honesty of scientific research, seriously violates relevant state regulations, and caused bad effects at home and abroad.”
The person in charge of the investigation said that He “will be dealt with seriously by the law.”
He Jiankui’s announcement of the first gene-edited babies, at a conference in November last year, shocked the world. The conference’s organisers called his work “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible”.
Xu Nanping, a Chinese official at of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said the experiments were “extremely abominable in nature”.
Different aspects of He’s work have caused concern.
First, that an unproven and potentially risky technique was used in healthy human embryos to prevent the potential transmission of HIV – a disease which already has effective prevention and treatment.
Second, that his work heralded, in effect, the birth of the first genetically modified human. Many have warned that so-called ‘designer babies’ could lead to a new era of genetic inequality, with embryos modified for more desirable traits.
He has yet to present peer-reviewed evidence for his claims.