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Gene-Edited Babies: What a Chinese Scientist Told an American Mentor

Gene-Edited Babies: What a Chinese Scientist Told an American Mentor

By PAM BELLUCK

He advised Dr. He to submit the research to a peer-reviewed journal, and Dr. He did so.

Then, because journal review takes time, Dr. Quake said he advised Dr. He not to go public in Hong Kong, but to speak privately with key experts there so they can “get socialized to what’s coming and will be more likely to comment favorably on your work.”

But Dr. He was not persuaded. “I do not want to wait for 6 months or longer to announce the results, otherwise, people will say ‘a Chinese scientist secretly hide the baby for 6 months.’”

Dr. Quake pushed back: “It is prudent to let the peer review process follow its course.”

But Dr. He went forward with his Hong Kong talk. Two days before it, after news of the twins broke, Dr. Quake emailed, “Good luck with your upcoming presentation!” But he added, “please remove my name” from the slide acknowledging people who had helped.

“He was spinning up this huge press thing around it,” Dr. Quake explained in the interview. “It was going to go well or poorly, I didn’t really know. But it wasn’t something I was involved in and I didn’t want my name on it.”

Dr. Quake is not sure what consequences he thinks Dr. He should face.

But he believes that the shock and horror some scientists now express belies the unruffled response of the experts he consulted.

Asked if he should have handled things differently, Dr. Quake said: “Well, hindsight is 20-20. I mean, you could say yes I should have done many other things.”

“But,” he continued, “as these things unfold, you’re in the moment, and you know, he’s doing legitimate scientific research — many people would define it that way. He’s got I.R.B. approval and his institution is regulating the human subject stuff and you sort of believe all that.”

He added: “To the extent that it wasn’t obvious misconduct, what does a person in my position do? Encourage him to do it right, his research, right? I mean, that’s what I believed I was doing.”



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