He Jiankui, Chinese scientist who edited babies' genes, jailed for three years

The biophysicist was guilty of illegal practice in trying to alter the genetic makeup of twins Lula and Nana

The scientist who created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies has been sentenced to three years in prison by a court in China.

He Jiankui said in November 2018 that he had used a gene-editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9 to change the genes of twin girls, causing a backlash in China and globally about the ethics of his research and work.

The court in Shenzen found him guilty of illegal practice and also fined him 3m yuan (US$430,000), according to the state news agency Xinhua. Two other people on He’s research team received lesser sentences and fines.

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“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.”

Zhang Renli, who worked with He, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1m yuan. Colleague Qin Jinzhou received an 18-month sentence, but with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 yuan fine.

He’s experiments, which were carried out on seven embryos in late 2018, sent shockwaves through the medical and scientific world.

Although scientists have understood for some time how genes of unborn children can be edited, most countries have banned the practice on moral and ethical grounds.

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He, who worked at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, was found to have ignored ethical and scientific norms in trying to interfere with the genetic makeup of twins called Lula and Nana.

He said he wanted to immunise the twins from the HIV virus but the original research published earlier this month by the MIT Technology Review found that he may not have succeeded in reproducing the gene that makes some people immune.


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