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He Jiankui sentenced to three years in prison for CRISPR babies


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He Jiankui sentenced to three years in prison for CRISPR babies

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

He Jiankui, a Rice University and Stanford trained biophysicist, shocked the world last year with his claim to have created genetically-modified humans, twins dubbed “Lulu and Nana.”

According to Chinese news reports, in addition to a prison term, He will pay a $425,000 fine and will be banned for life from further involvement in reproductive medicine. 

The sentence was handed down December 30th, Monday, by Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court. 

In addition to He, two colleagues, Zhang Renli, and Qin Jinzhou, will receive prison terms of two years and 18 months, respectively, for “carrying out human embryo gene editing … for reproductive purposes.”

According to the court, He and his research colleagues conspired beginning in 2016 to create gene-edited babies, settling on the idea of modifying a gene called CCR5, which could render them resistant to the HIV virus. 

The existence of the experiment was first reported by MIT Technology Review in November, 2018. Experts immediately condemned the research and Chinese provincial authorities opened an investigation. 

The court’s statement is the first time Chinese authorities have acknowledged the birth of a third gene-edited child, in addition to the twins. The second pregnancy likely came to term during the summer of 2019. 

The court found that He and his colleagues “deliberately violated the relevant national regulations on scientific research and medical management” and “rashly applied gene editing technology to human assisted reproductive medicine.”

During the trial, which was not public, investigators produced evidence including documents, witness accounts, electronic files and videos. He reportedly pled guilty, as did his two associates. 

According to the Xinhua news agency, He will be placed on a “black list” that will bar him, for life, from  engaging in human assisted reproductive technology.

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