And so He Jiankui has been set free after three years in a Chinese prison. What will become of him? Antonio Regalado from MIT Technology Review is the journalist who made the CRISPR-baby scandal explode in 1998 and is probably the best-informed source right now. Regalado writes that “it’s unclear whether He has plans to return to scientific research in China or another country,” but expects that “he’ll find a place in China’s entrepreneurial biotech scene”. Maybe in a low-profile niche as cloner Woo-Suk Hwang did after falling into disgrace several years ago in South Korea?Continue reading
Lulu and Nana are three years old. Amy is the name Nature Biotechnology uses to refer to the third CRISPR baby, born in late spring-early summer 2019. Their health is a closely held secret, that Vivien Marx has investigated for the journal’s December issue. “A full understanding of the health risks faced by the children due to their edited genomes may lie beyond the reach of current technology”, she writes. Despite or maybe because of that, the news feature is well worth reading. Below are a few points:Continue reading
The year 2019 ended with three years in jail sentenced to He Jiankui for illegal medical practice. The CRISPR-baby scandal’s epilogue was applauded on twitter by a few leading scientists such as Craig Venter and Fyodor Urnov and decried on STAT News by the controversial biohacker Josiah Zayner. Most experts, however, stayed silent.
As stressed by the Washington Post, “the judicial proceedings were not public, and outside experts said it is hard to know what to make of the punishment without the release of the full investigative report or extensive knowledge of Chinese law and the conditions under which He will be incarcerated.”
Exactly one year ago, AP News went public with the CRISPR-babies story. What happened to He Jiankui then? His trace was lost after the picture of him sequestered in a university guesthouse in Shenzhen.
How are Lulu&Nana? Nobody knows, but at least the study suggesting they might die early has been retracted.
What became of the global governance of germline editing? Waiting for the Science academies and the WHO reports in 2020.
What about the next baby-editing? Denis Rebrikov says he plans to do extensive safety checks before seeking approval to implant an edited embryo.
Last but not least, how many couples are interested in germline editing? Very few, according to calculations published in The CRISPR Journal.
History in the making: student experiment edits DNA with CRISPR technology in space (Iss national lab blog)
Emails reveal that a facility in Dubai and others have asked geneticist He Jiankui for help in gene-editing embryos (The Scientist)
New worries about CRISPR babies: gene edits might have shortened their life expectancy (Nature)
Twenty days after the announcement, many questions remain. The one certainty seems to be that the first CRISPR babies are less breaking news than expected.
They will be in front pages again, probably, if and when the scientific paper gets published, if and when the baby-editor He Jiankui resurfaces, if and when the first photos of Lulu and Nana are circulated. But if the coverage of Dolly the sheep is considered in comparison, there’s no match. Why?
The media world has changed dramatically in the meantime, CRISPR is still unknown to many, China is perceived as a Wild East where anything can happen. But a sheep is always a sheep, and babies are babies. We should care about the first edited kids more than that. Maybe people are less troubled by human genome editing than most bioethicists. Perhaps the media have had enough of Gattaca, Frankenstein, and the likes. Did we cry wolf too often yesterday to get people interested today?
Don’t miss the “Draft Ethical Principles for Therapeutic Assisted Reproductive Technologies” just published by He Jiankui et al. in The CRISPR Journal. It seems the Lulu and Nana’s experiment is at odds even with their own guidelines. We are eager to hear more from He’s voice, his talk in Hong Kong is scheduled on Wednesday, 28 November 2018 (Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing-live broadcast)