Sunday, April 14, 2019

The NY Times Details Stanford Scientist's Communications in the Gene-Edited Babies Controversy

The New York Times this morning carried a front page story dealing with Stanford University, scientist Stephen Quake and gene-edited babies in China. 

Stephen Quake
Chan Zuckerberg Biohub photo
The story appears to the first time that Quake, who is the Lee 
Otterson professor of bioengineering and professor of applied physics at Stanford as well as co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, has spoken at length publicly about his role in the matter of the Chinese children, who are the first gene-edited babies to be born. 

Their announcement last fall created an international brouhaha about the ethics and science of the work by He Jiankui, who once worked in Quake's Stanford lab. 

Times reporter Pam Belluck began her story like this
"'Success!' read the subject line of the email. The text, in imperfect English, began: “Good News! The women is pregnant, the genome editing success!' 
"The sender was He Jiankui, an ambitious, young Chinese scientist. The recipient was his former academic adviser, Stephen Quake, a star Stanford bioengineer and inventor. 
"'Wow, that’s quite an achievement!' Dr. Quake wrote back. 'Hopefully she will carry to term...'"
Stanford is investigating Quake's ties and communication with He. The Times reported that the school has received a complaint from the president of He's Chinese university, alleging that Quake “violated the internationally recognized academic ethics and codes of conduct, and must be condemned.”

In the Times article, Quake, who is participating in a $40 million genomics program backed by the $3 billion California stem cell agency, denied the allegations. Quake said his interactions with He have been misinterpreted. 

The Times wrote, 
"'I had nothing to do with this, and I wasn’t involved,' Dr. Quake said. 'I hold myself to high ethical standards.'
"Dr. Quake showed The Times what he said were the last few years of his email communication with Dr. He. The correspondence provides a revealing window into the informal way researchers navigate a fast-moving, ethically controversial field."
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