Scientist Sentenced To 3 Years In Prison After He Changed Babies' Genes


Chinese gene-edited baby scientist He Jiankui at his laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province in October 2018. He Jiankui was reportedly convicted of carrying out an "illegal medical practice".

Two of Jiankui's fellow researchers were also handed jail terms and fines. Two other people on He's research team got lesser sentences and penalties. He was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) and received a lifetime ban from practicing reproductive medicine.

In November 2018, He made worldwide headlines after announcing that he had created the world's first gene-edited babies, Lulu and Nana, in China. The genetics researcher took it upon himself to use the CRISPR gene-editing technique to modify human embryos and then have those embryos carried to term by their mothers.

In fact, the global scientific community raised concerns related to whether or not He had obtained proper consent from the parents of the babies as well as the level of transparency he'd provided in relation to the gene editing.

Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, noted it's nearly unheard of for a scientist to get imprisoned "but in this case the sheer recklessness and unethical behavior warranted it".

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"By counterfeiting and concealing the truth, unwitting doctors put the gene-edited embryos into human bodies with assisted reproductive technology, which led to two people getting pregnant and later giving birth to three gene-edited babies", Xinhua said. The gene-editing, conducted through a technology known as Crispr-Cas9, supposedly made the twins, who were born to HIV-positive parents, resistant to the disease. He disappeared shortly after he announced his research at a conference in Hong Kong 13 months ago. "[They] went beyond the bottom lines of scientific research and medical ethics", the court stated, according to the South China Morning Post. According to the Associated Press, three investigators were attacked by the Shenzhen court, the most prominent of them was He Jiankui.

The MIT Technology Review warned that "the technology is ethically charged because changes to an embryo would be inherited by future generations and could eventually affect the entire gene pool". The court determined that He deliberately violated Chinese investigation regulations and fabricated ethical review documents, which may indicate that the hospital was not fully aware.

The commission is attempting to create suggested guidelines and advice for scientists, clinicians and governments regarding human embryo gene editing.

William Hurlbut is a Stanford University bioethicist whose advice He sought for more than a year before his experiment.