Scientist He Jiankui Gets 3 Years in Prison for Gene Editing Babies

Scientist He Jiankui at Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong in 2018 (Source: Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist responsible for the birth of the world’s first gene-edited babies, was sentenced to three years in prison by a Chinese court.

On November 26, 2018, the People’s Daily reported that He Jiankui, former associate professor of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, announced that a pair of gene-edited babies named Lulu and Nana were born in China. The gene-editing, conducted through a technology known as Crispr-Cas9, supposedly made the twins, who were born to HIV-positive parents, resistant to the disease.

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The news immediately caused a backlash in China and globally regarding the ethics of the scientist’s work. He Jiankui quickly disappeared from the public eye, and was rumored to have been detained.

After a year of investigations, the researcher and three of his colleagues received official sentences. He Jiankui will have to spend three years in prison and pay a fine of 3 million yuan (roughly $429,000). Zhang Renli, He’s colleague, got two years in prison and a fine of 1 million yuan, while their other associate Tan Jinzhou received an 18-month sentence, with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 yuan fine.

“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 announced, according to Xinhua. “They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”