In 2018, he had been at the center of the controversy for modifying the DNA of two embryos to prevent the transmission of HIV. For this investigation he had been sentenced to three years in prison. He now proposes research -in mice- to combat Alzheimer’s. He modern settles in Shanghai with an investment of one billion dollars.
Beijing () – He Jiankui, the controversial Chinese scientist who in the past has been the subject of strong controversy in the world scientific community for his controversial experiments related to the genetic manipulation of unborn babies, wants to use a similar technique to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The biophysicist, who shocked the world in 2018 by announcing that he had altered embryonic genes to make them immune to HIV, now sets out to test whether a “particular mutation” in the genetics could confer protection against the most common cause of dementia. As the scientist himself published on Twitter last week, in the study human embryos will not be implanted to induce pregnancy -so no children will be born- and the first tests will be carried out in laboratory mice.
Dr. He is under a “lifetime” ban on reproductive technology research, so it is currently unclear how he intends to proceed with the experiment, which also requires government permits and ethics committee approvals. For now, he has announced that the genetic mutation in the embryos he wants to work with will reduce the formation of plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
The controversial scientist resumed his research by creating a new laboratory after being released from prison in 2022, at the end of the three-year prison sentence imposed on him by judges for his previous experiments. Some projects that remained secret and that only came to light when they gave results -with the birth of twins-, and that were condemned by the international community for considering irresponsible the use of a technology whose long-term effects are little known.
The matter dates back to 2018, when the Chinese scientist earned the nickname of a “gene manipulator” and a “big shareholder” in the industry for his experiment aimed at modifying the DNA of two embryos to protect them from HIV. He managed to give birth to two girls, Lulu and Nana, immune to the disease potentially transmittable by their HIV-positive father. However, his work was overshadowed by his involvement with various pharmaceutical companies dedicated to genetics, beyond the already widespread use of proven and safer techniques to block the transmission of the virus. Some colleagues accused him of using “a cannon to kill a bird”, in addition to expressing his ethical and scientific concern about the consequences of genome modification, which could be hereditary and compromise future generations.
Genetic manipulation technologies have proven useful in treating genetic disorders and rare diseases, but studies are strictly regulated and most countries, including China, prohibit their alteration in human embryos. Indeed, the modifications could also be passed on to future generations, with potentially “unintended” consequences, the extent of which cannot be predicted. Even today little is known about the girls who were born in 2018 as a result of the experiments of Dr. He, who used the “CRISPR” technology. Subsequent studies demonstrated the risks of this technique, which can cause serious side effects in human embryonic cells.
Meanwhile, the Modern pharmaceutical industry, known to the general public for having produced one of the two vaccines against the Coronavirus based on messenger RNA technology (together with Pfizer), arrives in Shanghai with an investment plan of one billion USD. Dollars. The American giant is expected to sign with the metropolis administration today, with the aim of promoting mRNA-based products within the Chinese market. Local sources reported that the CEO of Moderna has already landed in Shanghai to sign the agreement and the corresponding foreign direct investment (IDE) plan, preceded by the constitution of a legal entity, a prior step to enter the Chinese market. The significant sum of money invested will be used for the development of various projects and the production of vaccines.