A Chinese court on Monday sentenced He Jiankui, the scientist who made the world’s first genetically edited babies last year and in turn incited a global uproar, to three years in prison for conducting an “illegal medical practice,” Chinese state media reported.

A court in Shenzhen, where He was based, concluded the He and two colleagues violated Chinese regulations and ethical principles when they edited the DNA of twin IVF embryos and then started a pregnancy with them, the state news agency Xinhua reported. Chinese authorities found that He’s team had falsified regulatory paperwork.

He and the two colleagues, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, pleaded guilty during the trial, according to Xinhua. The court ruled that their efforts were “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain.” Zhang and Qin were given suspended jail sentences, and He was also fined about $430,000.

advertisement

He and his colleagues had recruited couples in which the man was HIV positive and the woman was not as part of an effort to create embryos with a genetic mutation that made the couples’ offspring protected from the virus. But almost immediately after He announced his research last year — and that the twin girls, known as Lulu and Nana, had been born — the global scientific community condemned the work as premature and unethical.

He claimed he was following guidelines issues by leading U.S. scientists and ethicists, but his experiment was almost universally described as dangerous and unethical. Some scientists have called for a global moratorium on such work, though scientists in other countries have suggested they would like to move forward with clinical embryo editing research, as the genome editing tool CRISPR has made such experiments seem more feasible.

advertisement

Most scientists say that it remains too early to edit the DNA of early embryos, sperm, or eggs with the intention of creating children — so called germline edits that change the genome in ways that would be passed down to future generations — and that not all the technical and ethical issues have been addressed. Indeed, the DNA of Lulu and Nana showed that He’s edits were not made as intended.

Nothing is known publicly about the health and wellbeing of Lulu and Nana at this point. A third CRISPR’d baby from a second pregnancy was also born.

  • Wait….So a scientist creates a genetic immunity to two girls who had a genetic pre-disposition to AIDS!!!

    And now he’s in jail?

    This may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Anyone who says “You shouldn’t play God” in response to this story has absolutely NO IDEA how the nature works. I APPLAUD this scientist’s efforts and hope that in 20 years CRISPR editing in humans will be a normal, accepted thing.

    • The problem is that he acted way too quickly, had no oversight, and hadn’t done any major testing in advance. It even says at the end of the article that the edit he made didn’t work properly. Even if they had, there’s no way to tell yet what side effects there might be. For all we know editing the genes he did might cause them to be more susceptible to cancer, or make them sterile. I have no idea. But neither did he, and instead of taking the time to do the proper research first, he decided to be Dr. Frankenstein and play with people’s lives. I hope these girls have no health issues because of what he did. But even if they don’t, he still acted irresponsibly and his jail sentence is well-deserved.

  • this is actually a trial and sentence for bringing international criticism and shame to China. Not defending what He did, but this is all political theater.

  • that’s why, despite it could have already been done several years ago, no one did it, or bragged about it, before.

Comments are closed.

Sign up to receive a free weekly opinions recap from our community of experts.
Privacy Policy