Chinese University Denies Scientist He Jiankui Was Detained Over Controversial Gene-Editing Experiment

He Jiankui
(Photo: facebook/defeatHIV)

The Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTC) denied scientist He Jiankui had been detained over his controversial experiment. The spokeswoman for the Chinese university said nobody's information seems to be accurate right now, except for the official channels.

Several social media outlets claimed over the weekend that He was brought back to Shenzhen by the president of the university, Chen Shiyi. The reports said the controversial scientist - who was a former student and employee of the university - was being kept and under house arrest following his appearance at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last week.

The university's spokeswoman, however, declined to give further details regarding this matter. She said the university could not answers any questions, and they update the public via their official channels if ever they have any information about the scientist, the South China Morning Post reported.

He, who has been dubbed as the "China's Frankenstein," sparked criticism and global controversy in the scientific community after releasing a YouTube video saying he had successfully created the first genetically edited babies. The scientist claimed twin sisters, Lulu and Nana, were born this November from embryos modified to switch off an HIV-related gene as their father was infected with the virus.

He gave a presentation about his experiment during the Hong Kong summit, and his whereabouts have been unknown since then. The university also issued a statement last week on their official website, distancing itself from He's experiments.

He was reportedly on leave since February, in which his controversial experiment was conducted outside the university, and the biology department of the school wasn't aware of his experiment as well. The university further stated they would establish an independent committee and would investigate this matter.

Meanwhile, Chinese health officials condemned He, noting they knew nothing about his experiments. The Ministry of Science and Technology also investigated his study and ordered him not to do any other research.

Authorities also denounced his experiment as "extremely abominable in nature," and He reportedly violated the laws and science ethics of the country. In the United States, similar forms of gene-editing have been banned due to the concerns that conducting such alterations could affect future generations.

He was born in Hunan province and grew up in a farming family. He graduated from the SUSTC with a degree in Physics. Later on, he switched to study Biophysics at Rice University in Houston, where he then first worked with the CRISPR.

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