In November 2018, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui made international headlines after using CRISPR to create the world’s first genetically edited babies. He and his team’s ultimate goal was to disable the CCR5 gene, preventing the HIV virus to infect cells.
In 2018, they had recruited couples in which the man was HIV positive and the woman was HIV negative as part of an effort to create embryos with a genetic mutation that made the couples offspring immune to the HIV virus.
However, almost immediately after He announced his research and that twin girls had been born, the global scientific community condemned the work as premature and unethical. Now, according to China’s state run news agency Xinhua, He and two of his colleges have been sentenced to three years in prison for “illegal medical practice”.
— Kyodo News | Japan (@kyodo_english) January 22, 2019
He has also been fined R6,021,223 (3 million yuan) and received a life-long ban from reproductive medicine. As for He’s co-workers, Qin Zinzhou and Zhang Renli were sentenced to 18 months and two years respectively for their roles in the gene-editing procedure and research. According to Xinhua, He and his two colleges plead guilty during the trial. The court ruled that their efforts were done “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain.”
News of the CRISPR procedure led to an out-cry among researchers in the US, who referred to the news as “immoral, unethical, and unconscionable” due to how young the CRISPR technology currently is, along with the potential of unforeseen consequences that could occur over future generations.
Feature image: Twitter/ @Fernando Beretta