Biotechnology

A woman is already pregnant with the next CRISPR baby, according to He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claims to have already created the world’s first genetically edited babies.

Bombshell: He made the claim about the early-stage pregnancy on the second day of an international gene-editing summit at the University of Hong Kong. “There is another one, another potential pregnancy,” he said on stage. He defended his work, saying he feels “proud” to have used gene-editing techniques to make the twin girls HIV resistant. “This is not just for this case, but for millions of children. They need this protection. [An] HIV vaccine is not available,” he said.

Irresponsible: After his presentation, He was quizzed by audience members about his work. Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that proceeding with germ-line editing in this way was “irresponsible” and criticized He for not being more open. “I think there has been a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community because of the lack of transparency,” he said. It also emerged that none of He’s presentation slides had contained information about the implanted embryos—or the babies—when they were submitted to the conference organizers.

Consent: Many of the questions from attendees revolved around the consent process. He said he had taken the volunteers through a 20-page document line by line and insisted they gave “informed consent” and “already understood quite well about the gene-editing technology and the potential effects and benefits.” He claimed to have paid for the entire process, besides some sequencing costs covered by startup funding at his university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen (which has denied all knowledge of his work on the twins).

Background: It was only three days ago that MIT Technology Review revealed that work to create CRISPR babies was already under way. He’s work has been condemned by Chinese academics, and the Shenzhen City Medical Ethics Expert Board has since said it would begin an investigation of his research.