Chinese scientist He Jiankui

Why Chinese scientist who created gene-edited babies has found it hard to win support

  • Chinese scientist He Jiankui has been criticised by his peers and little is known about the risks of gene-editing technology
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:00pm

It has been astonishing to see the transformation of this world, from developing cutting-edge technology to being controlled and threatened by the very same technology. We have mastered all the techniques and the knowledge, but often we end up facing its negative side. Case in point: babies born via gene-editing and the storm of controversy it has whipped up (“Chinese scientist He Jiankui apologies for sparking controversy, but says he is proud of his achievement”, November 28).

The announcement from Chinese scientist He Jiankui about gene-edited babies immune to HIV was very sudden and took many in the fraternity by surprise, and some cited the lack of peer review and transparency (“Scientists line up to take aim at research behind gene-edited babies”, November 28). Maybe it was his pride or his sense of honour that drove him to make the announcement, or maybe he was really trying to contribute to a better world.

What is gene editing? Who’s doing it? And is it right?

But other scientists have questioned the wisdom of such experiments, as the process of gene-editing is not risk-free, and even raises the spectre of the next generation of humanity as Frankenstein’s monsters.

Why gene-edited babies have been a scientific red line

The ethical issues surrounding the experiment have caused viral debates, and He’s peers have questioned the need for it when humanity faces so many other health challenges. What of the fate of the twins born as a result? Thrust under the spotlight from birth, would they be able to lead a normal life? Also, what about the “off-target risks” that gene editing may bring? I am afraid that it is difficult to support He’s “breakthrough”.  

Chan Chi Yuk, Tuen Mun