07/05/2023, 18.16
Send to a friend

After his release from prison, gene editor He Jiankui wants to work on Alzheimer

Sentenced to three years in prison for editing in 2018 the DNA of two embryos to prevent HIV transmission, the controversial scientist is now proposing research using mice to fight Alzheimer. Meanwhile, Moderna is investing US$ 1 billion in Shanghai.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - He Jiankui, a controversial Chinese scientist at the centre of a heated debate in the world scientific community over his contentious experiments involving the genetic manipulation of unborn children, wants to use a similar approach to prevent Alzheimer's disease.

The biophysicist, who shocked the world in 2018 by announcing that he had altered the genes of embryos to make them immune to HIV, now wants to test whether a particular genetic mutation can protect against the most common cause of dementia.

According to a tweet he posted last week, the study will not include implanted human embryos to create pregnancy - so no babies will be born - and the first tests will be carried out on laboratory mice.

Dr He has a lifelong ban on reproductive technology research, so it is presently unclear how he plans to proceed with his work since it requires government permits and ethics committee approval.

So far, He has announced that the genetic mutation of the embryos on which he wants to work will reduce the formation of a plaque in the brain, which is Alzheimer's hallmark.

Following a three-year prison sentence for his previous work, the controversial scientist set up a new laboratory, resuming his research after his release last year.

He’s previous work remained secret until he got results with the birth of twins, sparking international outrage in 2018 over his irresponsible use of an untested technology whose long-term effects are still unknown.

Two girls, Lulu and Nana, were born immune to the disease potentially transmissible by their HIV-positive father. However, his work was overshadowed by his links to several pharmaceutical companies involved in genetics.

This earned him the moniker "gene editor" for his work in modifying the DNA of two embryos to protect from HIV, and "big shareholder" for his own investment in genetics firms.

Given the fact that other proven and safer techniques exist to block HIV transmission, some colleagues accused him of “using a cannon to shoot a bird", concerned by the ethical and scientific implications of potentially hereditary changes in genomes that could affect future generations.

Genetic manipulation technologies have proven useful to treat certain genetic disorders and rare diseases, but studies are strictly regulated and most countries, including China, prohibit modifying human embryos.

Changes from DNA editing could be passed on to future generations, with potentially unwanted consequences of unforeseeable scope.

Even today little is known about the girls born in 2018 following Dr He’s work. The latter used CRISPR[i] technology that subsequent studies have shown to be dangerous since it can cause serious side effects in the cells of human embryos.

Meanwhile, Moderna, the pharmaceutical company known for making one of the two main mRNA-based[ii] anti-COVID vaccines (the other one is by Pfizer), announced plans to invest about US$ 1 billion in Shanghai.

The US giant is expected to sign an agreement today with the city government to promote mRNA-based products in China. The large investment will be ploughed into several vaccine development and manufacturing projects.

The company’s CEO is reportedly already in China’s second-largest city for the signing of the foreign direct investment (FDI) deal, after it set up a legal entity in the city earlier this year as a preliminary step.

[i] Red Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

[ii] Messenger Ribonucleic Acid.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Convicted gene editor He Jiankui sentenced to three years
30/12/2019 13:21
He Jiankui, gene editor and big shareholder in genetics companies
29/11/2018 17:00
Beijing, cloning one’s dog to love it forever
26/08/2019 13:56
Changing children’s DNA is 'crazy', ‘unethical’ and 'dangerous'
27/11/2018 13:33
Official gets death penalty for graft and embezzlement in pension fund scandal


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”