China's gene-editing scientist missing: reports

He Jiankui speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong. Source: Kin Cheung

There are reports that He Jiankui, the scientist behind gene editing claims, has not been seen since last week.

The Chinese scientist who claimed to have produced the world’s first genetically-altered babies is reportedly missing.

He Jiankui made headlines last week when he announced at a conference in Hong Kong he used the CRISPR gene-editing system to modify the DNA of human embryos, resulting in the birth of twin girls, Nana and Lulu, with an alleged immunity to the HIV/AIDS virus.

Local media reports Dr He, an associate professor at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology (SUST), has not been seen since.

Researchers from a company Dr He co-founded in 2016 have reportedly not been able to contact Dr He since the news of his research went viral, the Zhejiang Daily said.

SUST president Chen Shiyi has also allegedly travelled to Hong Kong to personally escort Dr He back to Shenzhen, where he was put "under house arrest", the Apple Daily reports.

A spokeswoman for the university, who were unaware of Dr He's experiment and have since shut down his lab, has denied he is being detained.

Dr He’s experiment was also criticised for his experiment by peers and the Chinese Government, as gene-editing remains an emerging practice.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned this week gene-editing may be dangerous, and said it would establish a panel of experts to set clear guidelines and standards after studying ethical and safety issues.

“Gene-editing may have unintended consequences, this is uncharted water and it has to be taken seriously,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said.

“We are talking about human beings, editing should not harm the welfare of the future person. We have to be very careful, the working group will do that with all openness and transparency.”

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