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Chinese court sentences scientist to three years in prison for unethical behavior in his creation of gene-edited babies

4 years 1 month 3 weeks ago Monday, December 30 2019 Dec 30, 2019 December 30, 2019 5:09 AM December 30, 2019 in News
Source: CNN
He Jiankui in his laboratory in Shenzen. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

SHENZHEN, CHINA - A Chinese scientist who helped create the world's first gene-edited babies has been sentenced to three years behind bars.

In 2018, when He Jiankui announced that he'd successfully led a team in modifying the DNA of two babies, he immediately became a controversial figure. 

He said that twin girls, Lulu and Nana, had been born with altered DNA to make them resistant to HIV, which he'd managed using a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9 before their birth.

CNN reports that at the time, He, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said he was 'proud' of his work and later claimed that a second woman was pregnant as a result of his research.

Despite He's satisfaction with his reasearch, many of his peers criticized his methods, labeling them as 'unethical' and 'damaging to China's reputation in the biomedical research arena.' 

In fact, the international 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. 

On Monday, the Shenzhen Nanshan District People's Court sided with He's critics, sentencing the scientist to three years behind bars and a $430,000 fine.

China's state-run news agency, Xinhua reported that He became aware of potential economic gains from human embryo gene-editing technology in 2016 and worked with two medical researchers, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, to use gene-editing technology to produce babies that were resistant to HIV.

Xinhua said, "The court held that the three defendants failed to obtain a doctor's qualification and pursued profit, deliberately violated the relevant national regulations on scientific research and medical management, crossed the bottom line of scientific and medical ethics, and rashly applied gene-editing technology to human-assisted reproductive medicine, and disrupted the medical treatment."

"The nature of their behavior is serious and has constituted the crime of illegal medical practice," the Chinese news outlet reported. 

Zhang was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $143,000 while Qin was given a suspended sentenced of one year and six months in prison and fined $71,600.

According to Xinhua, all three defendants pleaded guilty in trials that were closed to the public to protect individual privacy. 

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