Chinese scientist jailed for three years after creating world’s first gene-edited babies

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He Jiankui (Photo: cnn.com)

He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies has been sentenced to three years in prison.

In 2018, He announced that he had modified the DNA of twin girls Lulu and Nana to make them resistant to HIV. He did this using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 before birth.

But although He had said at the time that he was “proud” of his achievement, people in the scientific community did not think it was anything to be proud of. His experiment was labeled as “monstrous,” “unethical,” and a “huge blow” to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.

Image result for he jiankui
He was “proud” of his achievement (Photo: Al Jazeera)

On Monday, Chinese media reported that he was sentenced to three years behind bars and a 3 million yuan ( US $430,000) fine, by the Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court.

According to the court’s findings, He became aware of potential economic gains from human embryo gene-editing technology in 2016. He worked with two medical researchers, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, to use gene-editing technology to produce babies that were resistant to HIV.

“The nature of their behavior is serious and has constituted the crime of illegal medical practice.” the Court ruled.
Zhang was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1 million yuan ($143,000), while Qin was given a suspended sentence of one year and six months in prison and fined 500,000 yuan ($71,600).

According to Chinese media, all three defendants pleaded guilty in trials that were closed to the public to protect individual privacy.

They have also been banned from engaging in human-assisted reproductive technology services for life.

Editing the genes of embryos intended for pregnancy is banned in many countries, including the United States. However, China has invested heavily in gene-editing technology. The government has funded research into a number of world “firsts,”. This includes, first use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 in humans in 2016 and the first reported use of gene editing technology to modify nonviable human embryos in 2015.