China ‘gene-editing’ scientist sentenced to three years in jail

Court says Shenzhen-based He Jiankui ‘crossed the line’ with his work after women gave birth to gene-edited babies.

China He Jiankui
Scientist He Jiankui pictured in July 2017 before the gene-editing scandal erupted [File: Stringer/Reuters]

A court in China sentenced the scientist who created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies to three years in prison on Monday, having found him guilty on charges of illegally practising medicine.

He Jiankui, then an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in November 2018 that he had used gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to change the genes of twin girls to protect them from getting infected with the AIDS virus in the future.

The backlash in China and around the world about the ethics of his research and work was swift and widespread. He was suspended from his job and accused of work that was “extremely abominable in nature”.

He and his collaborators forged ethical review materials and recruited men with AIDS who were part of a couple to carry out the gene-editing. His experiments ultimately resulted in two women giving birth to three gene-edited babies, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The court also handed lesser sentences to Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who worked at two unnamed medical institutions for having conspired with He in his work.

“The three accused did not have the proper certification to practice medicine, and in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national regulations in scientific research and medical treatment,” the court said, according to Xinhua.

“They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”

Source: Reuters