Chinese gene editing scientist visit postponed

A visit by the Chinese scientist who said he created the world’s first gene-edited babies has been postponed.

Jiankui He was invited to give a talk by Dr Eben Kirksey, an Associate Professor at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, sometime in March. However, despite being reported on by the Times and the Guardian, the university has said they “understand that this has been postponed until further notice”. Dr He has tweeted that he “will not visit Oxford in March” as he feels he is not ready to talk about his experience. When the Oxford Student examined the university’s events database, it could find no evidence of this talk. 

Dr He was jailed for three years in 2019 for violating a Chinese government ban on carrying out experiments on human embryos. He was also fired from his post as associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, and the Chinese Academy of Science released a statement saying it was “firmly opposed” to gene editing on humans.

Dr He was attempting to give the human embryos protection against HIV. It was when he announced the birth of gene-edited twins, called Lula and Nana, in November 2018, that he was placed under police investigation by the Chinese government and faced backlash from the international science community. 

Dr Kirksey has written a book about Dr He’s research, The Mutant Project, which provides an inside account of Dr He’s laboratory in China that created “the world’s first children whose genes were edited with CRISPR-Cas9.” CRISPR-Cas9 is a revolutionary technology that allows scientists to edit genome components by removing, adding, or modifying DNA sections. It is much more precise and effective than other methods of genome editing. CRISPR was used for the first time on humans in 2016 when genetically modified cells were injected into a patient at a hospital in China with aggressive lung cancer.

Dr He spoke at a bioethics event in Kent at the weekend, where he frustrated scientists by refusing to answer questions about his controversial experiment. Dr Kirksey said to the science journal Nature that, “a publicity stunt like today shows he doesn’t have much credibility at least in the eyes of his peers.”


Image description: He Jiankui

Image credit: By The He Lab, CC BY 3.0,