A Chinese court on Monday sentenced the doctor who claimed to be behind the world’s first gene-edited babies to three years in prison for illegal medical practice, state media reported.
He Jiankui, who shocked the scientific community last year by announcing the birth of twins whose genes had allegedly been altered to confer immunity to HIV, was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000), Xinhua News Agency said.
Chinese researcher #HeJiankui was sentenced to three years in prison and fined about $430,000 for illegally carrying out the human embryo #geneediting intended for reproduction, in which three genetically edited babies were born. https://t.co/YmvHns6yVn pic.twitter.com/jntJDd9SQR
— People's Daily app (@PeoplesDailyapp) December 30, 2019
He was sentenced by a court in Shenzhen for “illegally carrying out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction”, Xinhua said.
The news agency said a third gene-edited baby was born as a result of He’s experiments, which had not previously been confirmed.
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The Chinese scientist released a video in November last year that the world’s first gene-edited babies — twin girls — had been born that same month after he altered their DNA to prevent them from contracting HIV by deleting a certain gene under a technique known as CRISPR.
He said the genes were edited using CRISPR to prevent embryos from contracting HIV, noting that the twins’ father had the virus.
“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,” said the court, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
“Their parents don’t want a designer baby,” He said. “Just a child who won’t suffer from a disease which medicine can prevent. I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology and I’m willing to take the criticism for them.”
The claim shocked scientists worldwide, raising questions about bioethics and putting a spotlight on China’s lax oversight of scientific research.
Amid the outcry, He was placed under police investigation, the government ordered a halt to his research work and he was fired by his Chinese university.
In 2018, a Chinese researcher announced the birth of two babies whose DNA was edited to lower their risk of contracting HIV—but new analysis suggests the edits may have actually hurt the babies' lifespans https://t.co/vbJdAovl3g
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) June 3, 2019
Gene-editing for reproductive purposes is illegal in most countries. China’s health ministry issued regulations in 2003 prohibiting gene-editing of human embryos, though the procedure is allowed for “non-reproductive purposes”.
Two other scientists who assisted He were also handed lesser sentences.
“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,” said the court, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
“They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.
GVS News Desk with additions from news agencies.