Rice professor under investigation for role in ‘world’s first gene-edited babies’

Rice professor under investigation for role in ‘world’s first gene-edited babies’
Rice Univ. via CNN
Under an initiative called The Rice Investment, US students seeking an undergraduate degree with family incomes under $130,000 will not pay tuition.

Rice University is investigating bioengineering professor Michael Deem after he was quoted in media reports as having been involved with the work of He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies.

Deem was He’s adviser at Rice for 3½ years and published three papers with He.

“This research raises troubling scientific, legal and ethical questions,” said Doug Miller, director of Rice University’s media relations team. In a statement, Miller said Rice had “no knowledge of this work.”

“We have begun a full investigation of Dr. Deem’s involvement in this research.”

He claims that he used a tool called CRISPR-Cas9, which can insert or deactivate certain genes, to alter the CCR5 gene in the DNA of several embryos to make them resistant to HIV.

Two babies, twin girls named Lulu and Nana, were supposedly born a “few weeks ago,” He announced in a video on YouTube, saying they were “as healthy as any other babies” and were home with their parents, Grace and Mark.

He defended his his work Wednesday at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing conference in Hong Kong and announced that there was a second pregnancy using genetically edited eggs, which he said was in an early stage.

Worldwide reaction to He’s Sunday announcement was swift. Hundreds of Chinese biomedical and AIDS researchers issued statements condemning the research. Several scientists said the experiment was “monstrous,” “premature, dangerous and irresponsible.” The Chinese government announced an “immediate investigation” to verify He’s claims, questioning the ethical approval process and wondering whether the families were adequately informed of the nature of the experiment.

Deem has not responded to CNN’s calls and emails but told The Associated Press that he was in China with the families at the time they gave consent and “absolutely” believed they understood the risks.

Deem also said he holds “a small stake” and is on the scientific advisory board of two of He’s companies.

Rice University said it did not believe that any of the clinical work was performed in the United States, but “regardless of where it was conducted, this work as described in press reports, violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University.”

While at Rice, Deem has worked extensively on influenza vaccine efficacy, immune system modulation and HIV. Deem also