The Chinese scientist who claimed to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies has put his clinical trial on hold following a public outcry over the ethical limits of the procedure.
On Wednesday, He Jiankui - the controversial scientist - addressed a biomedical conference in Hong Kong and revealed that he had edited the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father. "I must apologise, this result was leaked unexpectedly," He Jiankui said, according to AFP.
He said that although the current situation has forced him to pause the clinical trial, he remained 'proud' of his research as it is, he claimed, completely valid. "For this case, I feel proud. I feel proudest," he said, addressing the conference.
Jiankui also revealed that a second pregnancy is currently underway.
Last week, He Jiankui shocked the scientific community after revealing in an online video that he had helped create world's first gene-edited human babies.
He said that he had altered embryos for seven couples (all fathers carrying HIV) during fertility treatments. According to Jiankui, the goal of his work was to bestow babies with a trait to resist any possible future infection with HIV. He claimed that the gene-edited twin girls were, indeed, born resistant to the HIV virus.
He chose HIV because between 500,000 and 1.5 million people in China are infected with the virus.
He Jiankui's claims led to public outcry in China, as well as around the world. Scientists said He Jiankui supposedly used the CRISPR technology to edit genes in embryos. His work was criticised as scientists raised concerns over the risks of exposing healthy embryos to gene editing.
The Chinese government also ordered an investigation into the matter. The Chinese Union of Life Science Societies said that Jiankui's clinical trial had damaged country's international reputation in the field.
Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, where He Jiankui works, has also distanced itself from Jiankui's research. The University stated that Jiankui has been on leave since February and had completely violated its code of conduct in the field.
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