Chinese Scientist Who Created Gene-Edited Babies Proposes New Experiment on Embryos

The Chinese scientist who gained widespread criticism in 2018 after claiming that he had created the world’s first gene-edited babies has proposed a new experiment to prevent Alzheimer’s disease using the same method. In an update to his Twitter account on June 29, He Jiankui suggested gene editing mouse embryos and human fertilized egg cells, or zygotes, to determine if a mutation can protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia associated with memory loss. He emphasized in his proposal that there is no effective drug treatment for the progressive neurological disorder at present. “More than 5 percent of the population above 60 years old is affected by dementia; of these, two-thirds are the result of Alzheimer’s disease. After the age of 65, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease almost doubles every five years,” He stated. “We propose to introduce the APP (A673T) [gene point mutation] into embryos, and test whether this mutation confers protection against Alzheimer’s disease,” the scientist said. “We will first perform an experiment using a mouse model. By introducing the APP A673T mutation in mouse embryo, a variety of outcome measures will be applied to APP A673T mouse, including both neuropathological and functional test. Chinese scientist He Jiankui (C) takes part in a question and answer session after speaking at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Nov. 28, 2018. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images) “We then will introduce APP A673T mutation into human triponuclear zygotes. Extensive studies have shown that polyspermic zygotes such as triponuclear (3PN) zygotes, discarded in clinics, may serve as an alternative for studies of normal human zygotes,” he added. In the proposal’s disclaimer, He clarified that no human embryo would be implanted for pregnancy and that a government permit and ethical approval were required before any experimentation could happen. It remains unclear whether He would be granted permission to carry out his proposed research in China. On March 2, over 200 scholars from all over China issued a statement condemning He’s “attitude and refusal to reflect on his criminal actions of violating ethics and regulations of gene editing, as well as his misleading marketing campaign for rare disease research that lacks scientific and ethical foundation.” Lulu and Nana Controversy He, then an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he said he had used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in 2018. The twin babies were named Lulu and Nana. The scientist said he had targeted a gene known as CCR5 and edited it in a way he believed would protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Chinese state-run media initially praised the scientific breakthrough but later changed their tone after the case sparked widespread condemnation from the global scientific community for crossing ethical boundaries. Scientific experts were concerned that altering the genome of an embryo could cause unexpected harm not only to the individual but also to future generations who inherit and pass on these same changes. Under international pressure, the Chinese authorities arrested He in 2019 and sentenced him to three years in prison through a secret court trial for illegal medical practices. He was also fined $475,000 for violating medical regulations. According to court documents, He performed gene-editing and assisted reproduction on recruited couples with the male partner infected with HIV. After Lulu and Nana, a third child named “Amy” was born the following year using the same method. In April 2022, He was reportedly quietly released from prison after serving a three-year sentence. The scientist had his Hong Kong visa revoked earlier this year after widespread criticism. Jennifer Bateman and Reuters contributed to this report.

Chinese Scientist Who Created Gene-Edited Babies Proposes New Experiment on Embryos

The Chinese scientist who gained widespread criticism in 2018 after claiming that he had created the world’s first gene-edited babies has proposed a new experiment to prevent Alzheimer’s disease using the same method.

In an update to his Twitter account on June 29, He Jiankui suggested gene editing mouse embryos and human fertilized egg cells, or zygotes, to determine if a mutation can protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia associated with memory loss. He emphasized in his proposal that there is no effective drug treatment for the progressive neurological disorder at present.

“More than 5 percent of the population above 60 years old is affected by dementia; of these, two-thirds are the result of Alzheimer’s disease. After the age of 65, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease almost doubles every five years,” He stated.

“We propose to introduce the APP (A673T) [gene point mutation] into embryos, and test whether this mutation confers protection against Alzheimer’s disease,” the scientist said.

“We will first perform an experiment using a mouse model. By introducing the APP A673T mutation in mouse embryo, a variety of outcome measures will be applied to APP A673T mouse, including both neuropathological and functional test.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese scientist He Jiankui (C) takes part in a question and answer session after speaking at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Nov. 28, 2018. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

“We then will introduce APP A673T mutation into human triponuclear zygotes. Extensive studies have shown that polyspermic zygotes such as triponuclear (3PN) zygotes, discarded in clinics, may serve as an alternative for studies of normal human zygotes,” he added.

In the proposal’s disclaimer, He clarified that no human embryo would be implanted for pregnancy and that a government permit and ethical approval were required before any experimentation could happen.

It remains unclear whether He would be granted permission to carry out his proposed research in China.

On March 2, over 200 scholars from all over China issued a statement condemning He’s “attitude and refusal to reflect on his criminal actions of violating ethics and regulations of gene editing, as well as his misleading marketing campaign for rare disease research that lacks scientific and ethical foundation.”

Lulu and Nana Controversy

He, then an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he said he had used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in 2018.

The twin babies were named Lulu and Nana. The scientist said he had targeted a gene known as CCR5 and edited it in a way he believed would protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Chinese state-run media initially praised the scientific breakthrough but later changed their tone after the case sparked widespread condemnation from the global scientific community for crossing ethical boundaries.

Scientific experts were concerned that altering the genome of an embryo could cause unexpected harm not only to the individual but also to future generations who inherit and pass on these same changes.

Under international pressure, the Chinese authorities arrested He in 2019 and sentenced him to three years in prison through a secret court trial for illegal medical practices. He was also fined $475,000 for violating medical regulations.

According to court documents, He performed gene-editing and assisted reproduction on recruited couples with the male partner infected with HIV. After Lulu and Nana, a third child named “Amy” was born the following year using the same method.

In April 2022, He was reportedly quietly released from prison after serving a three-year sentence. The scientist had his Hong Kong visa revoked earlier this year after widespread criticism.

Jennifer Bateman and Reuters contributed to this report.