Chinese Scientist Makes Second Gene-Edited Unborn Baby, Now 12-14 Weeks in Utero

Bioethics   |   Christina Vazquez   |   Jan 25, 2019   |   7:49PM   |   Beijing, China

A Chinese woman is 12 to 14 weeks pregnant with the world’s second genetically-modified baby, soon after another woman gave birth to the first set of gene-edited twins last year.

France 24 reports scientist He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in China, had mentioned the second potential pregnancy at a human genome conference in Hong Kong in late November 2018, but the status of that pregnancy had not been confirmed until this week.

He’s experiment has not been verified, but, according to the BBC, investigators confirmed on Monday that his work had resulted in the birth of twin babies, and that another woman is currently pregnant.

He has been in the news recently after he revealed that he had genetically modified the DNA of twins to prevent them from contracting HIV. The Chinese government later issued an order to shut down He’s work and launched an investigation.

According to investigators in Guangdong, He disregarded government oversight by raising his own funds for the controversial experiment, and allegedly used untested technology to carry out the genetic modifications on the unborn children. He also “forged ethical review papers” and “deliberately evaded supervision” with a foreign staff, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

He enlisted eight couples to take part in his experiment, which has resulted in the two confirmed pregnancies. Since the announcement of the experiment, He has been placed under house arrest in Shenzhen, according to various news reports.

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While He said he believes it is his personal duty to eradicate HIV from the human population, many scientists worldwide have raised serious ethical concerns about his work. Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping condemned He’s actions, saying it “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable.”

The future implications for these genetically-modified humans and their children are unknown and potentially dangerous. “These mutations could be passed down through the germline to future generations with unknown implications for everyone,” Charlotte Lozier Institute’s Dr. David Prentice wrote previously.

Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert on gene editing at the University of Pennsylvania, also criticized the experiment, saying it was “unconscionable … an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible.”

The Chinese media stated the second pregnant woman will be kept under medical supervision. As for the scientist who meddled with human DNA, He will be “dealt with seriously according to the law,” and his case will be “handed over to public security organizations for handling,” according to the Xinhua news agency.