|Born||1984 (age 33–34)|
|Other names||Jiankui He|
|Alma mater||University of Science and Technology of China (B.S., 2006)|
Rice University (Ph.D., 2010)
|Known for||Conducting the first genome-editing experiments on embryos that were implanted and brought to term (Possibly)|
|Institutions||Southern University of Science and Technology|
|Doctoral advisor||Michael W. Deem|
|Other academic advisors||Stephen Quake|
He Jiankui ([ˈxɤ̂ ˌtɕjɛ̂nkʰwěi]); Chinese: 贺建奎, pinyin Hè Jiànkuí; born 1984, Western name order: Jiankui He) is a Chinese biophysics researcher who is an associate professor in the Department of Biology of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China.
He became widely known in November 2018 after he had claimed that he had created the first human genetically edited babies, twin girls known by their pseudonyms, Lulu (Chinese: 露露) and Nana (Chinese: 娜娜). The announcement of Lulu and Nana was met with widespread condemnation, and on 29 November 2018, Chinese authorities suspended all his research activities.
Education and career
Born in Xinhua County, Loudi, Hunan in 1984, He Jiankui was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China as an undergraduate student from 2002 to 2006. He entered Rice University in 2007 and received his Ph.D. degree in Biophysics under the supervision of Professor Michael W. Deem in 2010. After his Ph.D., he worked as a postdoc fellow with Stephen Quake at Stanford University. He moved back to China in 2012 under the Thousand Talents Program and opened a lab at the Southern University of Science and Technology. As part of the program, he was given 1 million yuan ($144,000) in angel funding, which he used to start biotech and investment companies. One of his startups is Direct Genomics, which is developing single-molecule sequencing devices based on patents invented by Quake that had been formerly been licensed by Helicos Biosciences. He also founded Vienomics Biotech, which offers genome sequencing services for people with cancer.
He took an unpaid leave from the university starting in February 2018, and began conducting the genome-editing clinical trial. On 29 November 2018, Chinese authorities suspended all He's research activities, saying He's work was "extremely abominable in nature" and a violation of Chinese law. In December 2018, following public outcry regarding his work, He appeared to have gone missing. China’s Southern University of Science and Technology denied the widespread rumors that he had been detained.
In 2010, at Rice University, He and Michael W. Deem published a paper describing some details of the CRISPR protein; this paper was part of the early work on the CRISPR/Cas9 system, before it had been adopted as a gene editing tool.
In 2017, He gave a presentation at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory describing work he did at Southern University of Science and Technology, in which he used CRISPR/Cas9 on mice, monkeys, and around 300 human embryos.
He's human gene-editing clinical trial was conducted without public discussion in the scientific community; it was first made public on 25 November 2018 when MIT Technology Review published a story about the work, based on documents that had been posted earlier that month on the Chinese clinical trials registry. After that story posted, He released a promotional video on YouTube and the next day the Associated Press published an interview with He. He had engaged a public relations firm as well. He eventually presented the work on 27 November at the International Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong.
The trial had recruited couples who wanted to have children; in order to participate, the man had to be HIV-positive and the woman, uninfected. The couples were recruited through a Beijing-based AIDS advocacy group called Baihualin. As of 28 November, it was unclear whether the clinical trial had received appropriate ethical review from an institutional review board before it started, and it was unclear if the participants had given truly informed consent.
He said that he took sperm and eggs from the couples, performed in vitro fertilization with them, and then edited the genomes of the embryos using CRISPR/Cas9. The editing targeted a gene, CCR5, that codes for a protein that HIV-1 uses to enter cells. He was trying to create a specific mutation in the gene, (CCR5 Δ32), that few people naturally have and that possibly confers innate resistance to HIV-1, as seen in the case of the Berlin Patient. He said that the girls still carried functional copies of CCR5 along with disabled CCR5 given mosaicism inherent in the present state of the art in germ-line editing. There are forms of HIV that use a different receptor instead of CCR5, and the work that He did could not protect resulting children from those forms of HIV.
He said that he used a preimplantation genetic diagnosis process on the embryos that were edited, where three to five single cells were removed and the editing was checked. He said that parents were offered the choice of using edited or unedited embryos.
The twin girls were born in late October or early November; He said that they appeared to be healthy. When they were born, it was unclear if there might be long-term effects from the gene-editing; He was asked about his plans to monitor the children, and pay for their care should any problems arise, and how their confidentiality and that of their parents could remain protected. The names of the children used in reports, "Lulu" and "Nana", and the names of their parents, "Mark" and "Grace", are pseudonyms.
He also said at the meeting, that a second mother in his clinical trial was in the early stages of pregnancy.
Chinese scientists and institutions harshly criticized He; an article in Nature stated that concerns about He's conduct were "particularly acute in China, where scientists are sensitive to the country’s reputation as the Wild West of biomedical research".
Geneticist Eric Topol stated, "This is far too premature ... We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It's a big deal." Nobel prize-winning biologist David Baltimore considered the work "irresponsible". Developmental biologist Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute said, "If true...this would be a highly irresponsible, unethical and dangerous use of genome editing technology." Medical ethicist Julian Savulescu of the University of Oxford noted, "If true, this experiment is monstrous." Bioethicist Hank Greely of Stanford Law School declared, "I unequivocally condemn the experiment." Biochemist Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California at Berkeley, a pioneer of the CRISPR–Cas9 technology, condemned the research. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University, said gene editing for HIV resistance was "justifiable" since HIV is "a major and growing public health threat", but questioned the decision of this project to allow one of the embryos to be used in a pregnancy attempt, since the use of that embryo suggests that the researchers’ "main emphasis was on testing editing rather than avoiding this disease".
Arthur Caplan, bioethicist at the New York University School of Medicine, said that engineering human genes is inevitable and, although there are concerns of creating "designer babies", medical researchers are more interested in using the technology to prevent and treat diseases, much like the type of experiments performed by He.
Carl Zimmer compared the reaction to He's human gene editing experiment to the initial reactions and subsequent debate over mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), and the eventual regulatory approval of MRT in the United Kingdom.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) of USA announced a statement on November 28, 2018 signed by its Director Francis S. Collins, condemning He Jiankui and his team for intentionally flouting international ethical norms by doing such irresponsible work, and criticizing that He's "project was largely carried out in secret, the medical necessity for inactivation of CCR5 in these infants is utterly unconvincing, the informed consent process appears highly questionable, and the possibility of damaging off-target effects has not been satisfactorily explored". NIH claims no support for the use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.
Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences published an announcement on journal Lancet, stating that they "are opposed to any clinical operation of human embryo genome editing for reproductive purposes in violation of laws, regulations, and ethical norms in the absence of full scientific evaluation", and condemning He Jiankui's operation for violating relevant ethical regulations and guidelines that have been clearly documented by Chinese Government. They emphasized that the "genome editing of germ cells or early embryos is still in the stage of basic research, ... scientific research institutions and researchers should not undertake clinical operations of genome editing of human germ cells for reproductive purposes, nor should they fund such research", and they will "develop and issue further operational technical and ethical guidelines as soon as possible to guide and standardise relevant research and applications""according to the highest scientific and ethical standards."
The Southern University of Science and Technology stated that He had been on unpaid leave since February 2018, and his research was conducted outside of their campus; the university and He's department said they were unaware of the research project and said it was inviting international experts to form an independent committee to investigate the incident, and would release the results to the public. Local authorities and the Chinese government also opened investigations.
Michael W. Deem, his doctoral advisor at Rice University, was involved in the clinical trial, and was present when people involved in He's study gave consent. Deem came under investigation by Rice after news of the work was made public.
On 3 December 2018, several news organizations reported He Jiankui had gone missing and some claimed he had faced house arrest. One day later, on 4 December, the Associated Press reported he had reached out to them to reveal the government of China had removed his license to do any future experiments and he could "not touch a test tube", but that he was not under house arrest or missing. He is also currently under investigation.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to He Jiankui.|
- Official WebSite/Jiankui He (Archived)
- Faculty profile at SUSTech
- He Jiankui's talk with slides, panel discussion, and audience questions. Starts at 1:15:30. Day 2, Session III of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing. November 27, 2018, Via National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine