Science

CRISPR Babies Scientist Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

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.

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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.

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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.

Republished with permission from STAT. This article originally appeared on December 30 2019

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