Scientist who edited babies' genes acted 'too quickly' but has no regrets after release from prison
FILE PHOTO: Scientist He Jiankui speaks at his company Direct Genomics in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

A Chinese scientist involved in the first instance of editing babies' genes admits he moved "too quickly" with the unprecedented procedure.

He Jiankui was fired by his university in Shenzhen, found guilty of conducting "illegal medical procedures" and sentenced to three years in prison after announcing in 2019 that he had edited the genes of twin girls Lulu and Nana before their birth, but he stopped short of expressing regrets in an interview with The Guardian.

“I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in the past for a long time," He said. "To summarize it up in one sentence: I did it too quickly.”

He announced four years ago at an international conference in Hong Kong that he had modified two embryos before they were placed in their mother's womb by editing a gene called CCR5 that he believed would give the babies immunity to HIV, and it later emerged that a third gene-edited baby had been born.

“Lulu and Nana are living a normal, peaceful, undisturbed life and we should respect them,” He said. “We respect patient privacy and, for me, I put the happiness of the family first and the science discovery second.”

He claims to have maintained contact with their family but wouldn't say whether he was involved in their clinical follow-up, and he refused to discuss the third child.

“I’m not answering this question,” he said, adding that the child was “living a normal life living with their parents."

The announcement triggered widespread shock, and he has unpublished data showed alarming evidence about "off-target" effect, such as unintended genetic changes that pose a risk of heart defects, cancer and developmental problems.

He is scheduled to give talks at numerous universities and conferences this year, including a seminar on bioethics next week in Britain, and he doesn't see his conviction as a barrier to conducting clinical trials in the future.

“According to Chinese law, when a person has served the prison [sentence], after that they begin again with full rights,” he said. “Compared to the past experience, it’s more important what we’re doing today that determine whether I move on or not.”

“I like the Beatles song 'Let It Be,'” he added. “Let’s move on to my new project.”