When news broke on Sunday (November 25) that researcher He Jiankui claimed to have used CRISPR to edit the DNA of twin girls born this month, an Associated Press article also revealed that Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas, had been involved. Yesterday, Rice announced that it has opened an investigation into Deem’s participation in the project, STAT reports.
He, who researches gene editing at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China, claims that as part of a clinical trial he used CRISPR to inactivate the gene for CCR5, a receptor that HIV uses to infect cells, in the embryos that gave rise to the twins. The results have not been published or independently verified.
“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,” Rice says in a statement to STAT.
Before opening his lab at the Southern University of Science and Technology, He studied at Rice and Stanford University. Deem was He’s faculty adviser at Rice, where he did his PhD. Deem also has “a small stake” in He’s two genetics companies, Deem tells the AP.
When study participants consented to take part in the clinical trial, Deem was there in China, he tells the AP. Deem also says that he believes participants understood the risks of participating. Before this project, neither Deem nor He had experience running clinical trials, the AP notes.
The Southern University of Science and Technology is also investigating the project.