“I think he has the persistence and patience to come back to research,” says Samira Kiani, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh and the producer of the new documentary Make People Better, which chronicles the He affair. He didn’t give any on-camera interviews for the film, which instead used recorded phone calls between He and Arizona State University biomedical historian Benjamin Hurlbut, as well as promotional footage shot in 2018 by He’s hired PR team. Since He’s release from prison, Kiani has had a handful of Zoom and email conversations with him. “I think he has some noble intentions, but he’s also a very ambitious person,” she says.
In the four years since an experiment by disgraced scientist He Jiankui resulted in the birth of the first babies with edited genes, numerous articles, books and international commissions have reflected on whether and how heritable genome editing – that is, modifying genes that will be passed on to the next generation – should proceed. They’ve reinforced an international consensus that it’s premature to proceed with heritable genome editing. Yet, concern remains that some individuals might buck that consensus and recklessly forge ahead – just as He Jiankui did.
Scientists, tech journalists, ethicists, and filmmaker Cody Sheehy navigate the genome technology space of genetic tailoring. In 2018, world-renowned Chinese geneticist He “JK” Jiankui ignited a controversial firestorm when his edited embryos produced twin girls without the public support of the scientific community. MAKE PEOPLE BETTER is the story of the martyr for the scientists who thought this was a great idea until the negative PR did not serve them. LINK
Make People Better’ Review: Clear Science, Confusing Storytelling
This muddy documentary dives into a complex story of genomic discovery, biomedical ethics and covert dealings.