A Chinese court has sent the scientist He Jiankui and two of his associates to prison after finding them guilty of illegal medical practices and carrying out human gene editing for reproductive purposes.
Jiankui, a biophysics researcher trained at Stanford, made it to the news headlines last year after publishing a paper and revealing that his team has managed to edit human genes with the help of CRISPR/Cas9 tool. He claimed that the research led to the birth of the world’s first gene-edited babies.
The team edited the CCR5 genes in human embryos to make them immune to the HIV virus. They also assisted “reproduction for multiple couples of HIV-infected persons.”
Three genetically edited babies were born after the said embryos were planted into two women. Adding to the surprise, until now, it was known that only two twin-girls were born.
According to the court documents, Jiankui and his team forged documents and deceived the patients and doctors, making the patients believe that they were part of an AIDS vaccine trial. Also, the gene-editing technique used by the team hasn’t been “verified for safety and effectiveness,” per the court documents.
The court has sent Jiankui to the prison for 3 years and he will have to pay $429,000 (RMB 3 million yuan) in fines. He has been banned from engaging in human-assisted reproductive technology for life.
His coworkers will also face more than two years of prison time and pay their fines of $141,000 (RMB 1 million yuan) and $71,500 (RMB 500,000) respectively.
The research paper had 10 authors in total, but the fate of the rest remains unclear. The trial was kept secret to protect the privacy of the people involved.