The scientist behind CRISPR babies jailed for three years
He Jiankui, the scientist behind the world’s first “gene-edited” babies Lulu and Nana has been sentenced to three years in prison by a court in China.
In November 2018, He Jiankui claimed that he had used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to edit the genes of twin girls Lulu and Nana to make them HIV resistant. This had provoked an outcry worldwide questioning the ethical integrity and safety of gene editing techniques. Thereafter he was temporarily suspended from all research activities.
According to the state news agency Xinhua, the Shenzhen court found the scientist behind the CRISPR babies guilty of illegal practices, jailed and fined him an amount of 3m yuan (US$430,000) along with his co-workers Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou who received two years prison with 1m yuan fine and 18-month sentence with 500,000 yuan fine respectively.
As per official reports, the team performed the gene-editing experiments in seven embryos without any supervision just to gain fame and fortune. The funds required for the experiments were raised by themselves.
“The three accused did not have the proper certification to practice medicine, and inseeking 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.”
Even though scientists were able to understand how genes can be edited in unborn babies, the practice is banned in most of the countries on ethical and moral grounds.
He Jiankui from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen had ignored the scientific and ethical norms to alter the genetic information of the twins to immunize them against HIV.
After the original research was published earlier this month, the MIT Technology Review had found that the team might have failed in reproducing the gene that makes some people immune to HIV.