Beijing, Dec 30 (IANS) A Chinese court on Monday sentenced scientist He Jiankui to three years in prison for illegally carrying out human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction, in which three genetically edited babies were born.
The Nanshan District People’s Court of Shenzhen said He, a former Associate Professor with the Southern University of Science and Technology, and two others were convicted of illegal medical practice, Xinhua news agency reported.
He was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000).
Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou from two medical institutes in Guangdong Province received jail terms of two years, and 18 months with a two-year reprieve, as well as fines.
According to the verdict, the three, not qualified to work as doctors, had knowingly violated the country’s regulations and ethical principles to practice gene editing in assisted reproductive medicine.
The verdict and previous investigations showed He’s team fabricated an ethical review certificate and recruited eight volunteer couples (with males who tested positive for HIV) intending to produce HIV-immune babies.
They implanted genetically-engineered embryos into the females’ body and impregnated two of them, who gave birth to three babies.
It said their acts were “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain” and have seriously “disrupted medical order”.
The three pleaded guilty during the trial.
He claimed in November 2018 that the world’s first genetically edited babies were born with their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV.
The news prompted an immediate investigation from authorities.
At a conference in the University of Hong Kong, He’s last public appearance in November last year, the scientist said that he felt proud of using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic editing technique on the twins and stressed that the study did not aim to eliminate genetic diseases but to give the babies the natural ability to resist a possible future HIV infection, Efe news reported.
Later, more than 120 scholars from the Chinese scientific community said in a statement that any attempt to make changes in human embryos through genetic modifications was madness and posed a high risk for mothers giving birth to such babies.