Scientist Behind First Genetically Engineered Babies Sentenced to Prison

He Jiankui shocked the scientific world in 2018 when he announced that he had modified the DNA of human twin girls before they were born.

The scientist who claimed that he created the world’s first genetically edited babies was sentenced to three years in prison.

Following judicial proceedings that weren’t public, a court in China sentenced Dr. He Jiankui to three years in prison for carrying out “illegal medical practices” on Monday. He pleaded guilty and was fined $430,000. Two collaborators, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, were also sentenced.

In 2018, Dr. He, a former associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology, shocked the scientific world when he announced that he had modified the DNA of human twin girls to make them resistant to HIV. He said he modified their DNA using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 before they were born.

The court said that Dr. He forged ethical review documents and blood tests to dodge laws that forbade him from practicing the controversial gene editing. It also found that he, along with the two collaborators, were not qualified to work as doctors and their experiments were “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain,” and “disrupted medical order.”

While scientists have been testing fixing genetic diseases in adults using CRISPR technology, editing embryo genes intended for pregnancy is banned in many countries, including the U.S.