They include Feng Zhang and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a powerful but simple new tool called CRISPR-cas9 that reportedly was used on the Chinese babies during fertility treatments when they were conceived.
Speaking with the AP, Jiankui said that he felt a "strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example", adding that "society will decide what to do next" whether it will be allowed or forbidden.
Some staff at some of the other hospitals were kept in the dark about the nature of the research, which He and Deem said was done to keep some participants' HIV infection from being disclosed. In each case, the father was infected with HIV; the mothers were HIV-negative. Deem was He's adviser when he studied at there.
Altering genes in sperm, eggs or embryos means those changes can be passed down to future generations - people who would have no way to consent to those changes.
In a video released on YouTube, He said that only a single gene had been changed, but gene editing is known to introduce unintended genetic effects that could raise concerns - either for the children themselves or the human gene pool if the children grow up to pass on their genes.
It's important to note here the science has not been posted on a preprint server or published in a peer-reviewed journal - the usual standard applied to confirm new research is valid and ethically sound.
If He's claims are accurate, Annas wrote, then the academic violated "a growing medical-scientific consensus that gene editing not be used on human embryos to create a baby until much more is known about its safety (especially "off target" effects), how to obtain informed consent, and how to monitor any resulting children (and their children) for at least 3 generations (indeed, the Hong Kong conference is the second global one on the science and ethics of Human Genome Editing, designed especially to create an worldwide consensus)".
Other scientists, meanwhile, asked to see details of the experiment and its justification before passing judgment.
"We have not yet enacted any meaningful regulations or laws to guide the technology down safe and ethical paths, and away from those that could prove profoundly destructive both scientifically and culturally", the Discovery Institute's Wesley Smith warned Monday at National Review. "Directly experimenting on human is nothing but insane ... as soon as a living human is produced, no one could predict what kind of impact it will bring, as the modified inheritable substance will inevitably blend into human genome pool", they wrote, adding that the trial is a "huge blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.
\While editing the DNA of a human embryo is not now allowed in the US, in 2017, an worldwide committee of the National Academy of Sciences called for loosening the moratorium and allowing trials of CRISPR in human embryos, under strict oversight, to treat rare genetic diseases that can't be addressed in any other way. "It's just nearly surreal", said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who said he has seen some of the data behind the experiment.
"We don't know how much of this is true or verified. It's a big deal".
But one well-known geneticist, Harvard University's George Church, defended He's attempt to edit the embryos' genes for HIV, which he called "a major and growing public health threat".
He, who created two companies based on his studies, is scheduled to present his findings at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, and will certainly be the target of numerous questions from the leading gene-editing scientists in attendance.
The use of that embryo suggests that the researchers' "main emphasis was on testing editing rather than avoiding this disease", Church said. A particular mutation in that CCR5 gene is thought to confer some resistance to HIV by making it harder for that virus to enter cells.
In the first stage, the sperm was washed to separate it from semen, the fluid in which HIV can form.
The gene editing occurred during IVF, or lab dish fertilization.
At around 3 to 5 days old, a few cells were taken from the embryo and checked if it was possible to edit them.
Couples chose whether they wanted to try to get pregnant with edited or unedited embryos. The technology also carries the risk of affecting other genes unintentionally. University officials said they had no knowledge of his research and had launched an investigation.
Pregnancy attempts for the other couples are on hold until the research can be analyzed by other experts in the field.
"I believe this is going to help the families and their children", He said.