01 December 2022

Jiankui is back!

The controversial creator of CRISPR children returned to science after prison

Svetlana Maslova, Hi-tech+

At the end of 2019, Chinese scientist He Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison for experiments on the creation of GMO children - with the help of gene editing, he wanted to protect them from HIV. Following the loud statements in the media about the scientific breakthrough, there were accusations of unethical experiments and even fraud. In China, He Jiankui served a three-year prison sentence, but now he has returned to scientific work at the new Jiankui He Lab and primarily seeks to develop treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

In November 2018, it became known about the birth of the first children with an edited genome. The experiment involved three married couples in which the fathers were HIV-positive. Allegedly, scientist He Jiankui edited the CCR5 gene in embryos to provide protection against HIV, cholera and smallpox. Meanwhile, the facts about this experiment are still unclear.

An analysis of the original study, He Jiankui's secret document, which was never published, showed that it was not possible to reproduce the natural delta 32 mutation in the CCR5 gene to protect against HIV. Instead of creating an analogue of delta 32, the researchers made completely different changes to the gene, the consequences of which are unpredictable. At the moment, this has not been confirmed, but it is known about the birth of two twin girls and another girl as a result of CRISPR editing.

He received three years in prison for unethical and illegal experiments. Now he has returned to scientific research at the non-profit medical research institute "Jiankui He Lab", writes Stat.

"Today I moved to a new office in Beijing. This is the first day at Jiankui He Lab," He posted on Twitter.


From further statements in other social networks, it became known that, first of all, he intends to use gene editing methods to treat a rare disease — Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

It is not yet clear how the world scientific community will react, but there is definitely curiosity about its activities. For example, he has already received an invitation from Oxford University to speak at a conference on the use of CRISPR in reproduction next year.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which He is now studying, belongs to rare, severe and incurable diseases. The disease begins to progress from the first years of a child's life and leads to an early death. Recently, scientists from Switzerland have shown that their experimental approach aimed at sphingolipids can reverse the damage from the disease.

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