The Scientist Who Claims to Have Genetically Edited Babies Might Be Under House Arrest

He Jiankui has been spotted in an apartment surrounded by unidentified men.
Jessica Miley

The Chinese scientist who claims to have used CRISPR technology to edit the genes of babies genetically may be under house arrest in his university. 

Late last year, He Jiankui, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China, claimed to have created the words first gene-edited babies. 

His story made headlines across the globe which resulted in the Chinese Government reportedly ordering a halt-work at his laboratories where the gen-editing allegedly occurred. 

He Jiankui had not been seen in public since defending his actions in Hong Kong, at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28, 2018. 

On December 28,  New York Times reported that He Jiankui had been spotted on the balcony of an apartment on the grounds of the Southern University of Science and Technology of China. 

House arrest suspicion unverified

The NYT said He was spotted talking to a woman who may be his wife while more than a dozen unidentified men monitored the building from ground level. The fourth-floor apartment is at a university guesthouse, run by the school for visiting teachers to Dr. He’s university. 

It is located in Shenzhen’s Nanshan District, an area home to many of Chinas best-known tech companies such as Tencent. 

Dr. He made his public claims of gene-editing in November last year telling the world he had created genetically edited embryos which were then implanted in a woman who gave birth to twin girls called Nana and Lulu. 

Babies might be more HIV resistant

He claims he edited their genes become more HIV / AIDS-resistant. While Dr. He did not provide hard proof of his claims, he did provide some data that led many experts to believe it is possible his claims were true. 

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Colleagues of Dr. He has condemned his actions with many surprised that the scientist had been able to push so far into the ethics minefield without more control from fellow researchers or the university. 

William Hurlburt, a bioethicist from Stanford University told the Guardian that he had kept contact with Dr. He after meeting him at a conference. “I knew that was his long-term goal. I just didn’t think he would push so imprudently,” Hurlburt said.

“I worried his enthusiasm for what he was doing was so high that he might proceed faster than he should … Now the door is open to this and will never close again. It’s like a hinge of history.” 

The university condemned He’s actions releasing a statement saying that they did not know what the research involved and that He had been on unpaid leave since February. 

There has been no further word from the Chinese authorities, nor He’s university about disciplinary action against him.

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