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Researcher who edited babies’ genome retreats from view as criticism mounts

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 30 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5113
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. Montreal

He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher who rocked the field of genetics when he announced the birth of two babies whose genome had been edited to prevent HIV infection, defended his work before an audience of scientists at a Hong Kong genomics conference on 28 November.1

But He withdrew from a scheduled speaking slot the next day—a discussion about developing standards and moral principles for human germline editing—as criticism mounted from other scientists and from the Chinese government, while conference organisers called his research “irresponsible.”

He’s announcement of the birth of twins Lulu and Nana was timed to coincide with the second international summit on human genome editing. Though he had been scheduled to speak on the last day, organisers hurriedly made room for an earlier appearance.

A packed session at the University of Hong Kong saw him introduced by Robin Lovell-Badge of London’s Francis Crick Institute. “He has to be given a chance to explain what he has done and why,” said Lovell-Badge, threatening to end the meeting if there was “unruly behaviour.”

To audible gasps, He began contritely: “I must apologise that these results leaked before peer review.” News of the births did not leak inadvertently but was announced by He himself on YouTube and in an Associated Press interview on 25 November.

He said that his …

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