The second woman carrying a gene-edited foetus in China could now be 12 to 14 weeks into her pregnancy, according to a US physician in close contact with the researcher who claimed to have created the world's first genetically-modified babies last year.
Jiankui shocked the scientific community after revealing that he had successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born in November to prevent them from contracting HIV. State media reported on Monday that a preliminary investigation confirmed that a second woman became pregnant and that she will be put under medical observation, but no other details about her are known.
Professor He, who now faces a police investigation, had mentioned the potential second pregnancy at a human genome conference in Hong Kong in late November, but its status was unclear until now. William Hurlbut, a physician and bioethicist at Stanford university in California who has known He for two years, told AFP it was "too early" at the time for the foetus to appear on an ultrasound.
Based on extensive conversations with He, Hurlbut said: " The researhcer get the impression the baby was fairly young when the conference happened. It could only be detected chemically, not clinically. "So it could be no more than four to six weeks old (at the time), so now it could be about 12 to 14 weeks." Hurlbut said he met He at a scientific conference co-chaired by Hulburt two years ago. Since then the pair have met at least four times during His visits to Stanford.
Hurlbut added he was not involved in the project in any capacity, and only knows about the second pregnancy. Wang Haoyi, told AFP that the experiment's effects on the health of the twin babies is hard to predict, but that their identities should be protected to give them the best chance of a normal life. "I think they definitely need to take serious measures to protect their privacy," he said. "They do not even need to let them know that they are any different from others."
The researcher planned to visit lab following the genome summit. But after news of his experiment was published, was placed "under protection of security people" and the two have not seen each other in person, he said. They exchanged emails and spoke on the phone every week after that, but Hurlbut last heard from He seven days ago.
They has been residing in an apartment at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, where family has been allowed to visit him in the day time, Hurlbut said. A probe by the Guangdong provincial government found that He had "forged ethical review papers" and "deliberately evaded supervision", according to state-run Xinhua news agency.