Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, has exonerated “several” of its researchers who interacted with He Jiankui, the Chinese biologist now infamous for creating the first gene-edited human babies, twins that were born in October 2018. After a “fact-finding review” conducted by an unnamed member of Stanford’s faculty and an outside investigator, the university concluded in a statement released today that its researchers “expressed serious concerns” to He about his work with human embryos intended for implantation and did not participate in it.
Although Stanford did not name the researchers, bioethicist William Hurlbut and hematologist Matthew Porteus, both at the university, have previously acknowledged discussing the project with He and said they tried to dissuade him. He was also a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Stanford bioengineer Stephen Quake in 2011–12. Quake’s interactions with He were the subject of a lengthy story in The New York Times on Sunday.
The extensive consultations He had with many U.S. researchers about his gene-editing plans has raised questions about whether any of them took enough action to try to stop him before he implanted the embryos. The president of He’s Chinese university wrote to Stanford’s president alleging that Quake had helped He, according to The New York Times. Quake denied that to the paper and said he had encouraged his former mentee to get the appropriate ethics approval. “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,” Quake said to The New York Times.