Dr He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, addressed a packed hall of around 700 people attending the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong.
"The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only".
"While this research has yet to be subject to peer scrutiny-which in itself is problematic-it looks like the researcher involved wanted to be the first rather than waiting to be safe".
He said "another potential pregnancy" of a gene-edited embryo was in its early stages.
He explained that eight couples - comprised of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers - had signed up voluntarily for the experiment; one couple later dropped out.
He Jiankui defended what he claimed to have achieved, saying he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection with the AIDS virus.
Just as important, there are already common and highly effective methods to prevent transmission of HIV from a parent to an unborn child, he said. Organizers of the conference told reporters at a pre-event briefing they were awaiting further details.
While China has pushed ahead with CRISPR research being the first to inject genetically modified cells into a patient with lung cancer and is building the world's largest DNA database, local scientists were horrified by He's experiments. After the couples produced embryos through IVF, he used CRISPR to cut the CCR5 gene, disabling it in the hopes of making the embryos less vulnerable to HIV infection. Editing particular sequences can change those messages, and CRISPR/Cas9 is the tool that can do that. Editing sperm or embryos is different - the changes can be inherited.
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But He's alleged work traverses uncharted waters that are troubling to many ethicists.
They urged the Chinese government to impose clear regulations quickly.
He and hundreds of other scientists are gathered at the Second International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong.
Mr. He made his announcement Sunday in a YouTube video. He also invited viewers to send comments to his lab and to the two babies, named Lula and Nana. Many experts say the procedure should not have been allowed to happen, but the decision to allow the implantation of the "partially" modified embryo was an even worse indiscretion, calling it a form of human experimentation. In its statement, the university said it was unaware of He's project or its nature, and noted that the experiment was not conducted on its campus.
"Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as insane", they said. "Hopefully these kids will not have any health problems", he says.
\While editing the DNA of a human embryo is not now allowed in the USA, in 2017, an worldwide committee of the National Academy of Sciences called for loosening the moratorium and allowing trials of CRISPR in human embryos, under strict oversight, to treat rare genetic diseases that can't be addressed in any other way.
The technology to genetically edit human embryos has been around for a while, but scientists were unwilling to cross that ethical line.
Apparently anticipating the criticism, He boldly proclaimed in one of this videos that his group has reflected deeply on how to help families facing risks of genetic diseases. The Harvard geneticist George Church has said that he thinks that the research is "justifiable".
In addition, Zhang said that in 2015, "the worldwide research community said it would be irresponsible to proceed with any germline editing without 'broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.' (This was the consensus statement from the 2015 worldwide Summit on Human Gene Editing.) It is my hope that this year's summit will serve as a forum for deeper conversations about the implications of this news and provide guidance on how we as a global society can best benefit from gene editing".