Researcher behind ‘gene-edited babies’ given prison sentence

Chinese biophysicist jailed for three years for experiment that led to live births of three genetically altered children

December 30, 2019
Source: Wikipedia Commons
He Jiankui

He Jiankui, previously an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined Rmb 3 million (£327,000) for illegal human embryo gene-editing using CRISPR-Cas9 technology.

Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, researchers from two other medical institutes in Guangdong province, were also given jail terms and fines.

The verdict, by a court in the city of Shenzhen, said that the acts were “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain” and seriously “disrupted medical order”, state media reported.

In December, MIT Technology Review released excerpts of previously unpublished work by Dr He. “He Jiankui’s manuscript shows how he ignored ethical and scientific norms in creating the gene-edited twins Lulu and Nana,” the Review wrote, using the babies’ pseudonyms.

The controversy erupted in November 2018, when Dr He shocked attendees at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing with a video revealing that he had altered the embryos of the twin girls, allegedly to prevent them from contracting HIV. On stage at the summit hosted by the University of Hong Kong, Dr He said that “in this particular case, I feel proud, the proudest, because [the parents] thought they lost hope for life”. The father of the twins was HIV positive and had consented to the procedure. 

David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology, who chaired the summit’s organising committee, said at the time that Dr He’s work was “irresponsible” and “a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community.”

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