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Claims and Data

When He Jiankui announced about a year ago that he had used CRISPR to alter the genomes of twin girls as embryos, he also said he had submitted his work to a journal for publication. But as Wired reported at the time, publishing the work raised a number of ethical issues: the scientific community wanted the data to be available for scrutiny, but didn't want to give the respectability that comes with being published.

MIT's Technology Review reports that He submitted his manuscript on the CRISPR twin work, in various forms, to at least two journals — Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association — and BioRxiv, but that the journals and repository declined to publish or post the manuscript. 

Tech Review itself, though, has obtained copies of the draft manuscript, which it now excerpts at its site alongside comments from a law professor, a reproductive endocrinologist, a gene-editing researcher, and an embryologist. Their comments, it says, are "damning." 

For instance, the manuscript claims He and his colleagues were able to reproduce a known mutation in the CCR5 gene successfully, but the experts note that the data doesn't back that assertion up. "The study shows that the research team instead failed to reproduce the prevalent CCR5 variant," Fyodor Urnov from the Innovative Genomics Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Tech Review. "The statement that embryo editing will help millions is equal parts delusional and outrageous, and is akin to saying that the 1969 moonwalk 'brings hopes to millions of human beings seeking to live on the moon.'"