A scientist who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies has gone missing amid rumours that he has been arrested.
Chinese scientist He Jiankui was last seen at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last Wednesday (November 28).
He was reportedly placed in immediate house arrest following the conference, however these claims have now been called into question.
As reported by the Daily Mail, Jiankui sparked controversy last Monday (November 26), when he announced online that he had successfully used a gene-editing tool to modify the DNA of two embryos. He then reiterated these claims at the conference later that week.
The scientist is an associate professor of the Department of Biology at Shenzhen Southern University of Science and Technology. After his controversial speech, he was reportedly brought back from Hong Kong to Shenzen by Chen Xiaoyi, the president of the University.
It is then the two had a six-hour meeting on his controversial research, before people believe he was placed under house arrest. He also reportedly have several security guards surrounding him.
This is because of Jiankui’s claims that he and a team of researchers had modified the twins’ embryos to effectively ‘switch off’ a HIV-related gene because their father has the virus.
He claims he successfully implanted the genetically edited fertilised egg into the mother’s body and gave birth to the world’s first twin baby girl who was immune to HIV.
As reported by Apple Daily, this led to the scientific community agreeing that the scientist’s behaviour ‘touched the bottom line of scientific ethics’.
The National Health and Health Commission also pointed out that the experiment violated laws and ethical guidelines and as such, will be investigated and punished by law.
However, when the scientist attended the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, he said he was ‘proud’ of his achievements.
Furthermore, the South China Morning Post has reported that the University in question has dismissed claims that Jiankui has been detained.
A spokeswoman for the Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTC) said:
Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are.
But she refused to elaborate further on this matter, saying:
We cannot answer any questions regarding the matter right now, but if we have any information, we will update it through our official channels.
This comes after the university issued a statement on its official website last week, distancing themselves from the scientist’s work.
The University was deeply shocked by this event and has taken immediate action to reach Dr. Jiankui HE for clarification.
The SUSTech Department of Biology Academic Committee believes that Dr. Jiankui HE’s conduct in utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to edit human embryos has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct.
He is also facing an investigation from the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has ordered him to stop any research.
As of now, it is unclear where Jiankui, dubbed ‘Chinese Frankenstein,’ may be.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).