Scientist Behind Gene-Edited Babies Is Let Out of Prison

He Jiankui was convicted, sentenced in China in December 2019
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 30, 2019 3:42 AM CST
Updated Apr 6, 2022 12:33 PM CDT
Scientist Behind Gene-Edited Babies Is Going to Prison
In this Oct. 10, 2018, photo, Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks during an interview at his laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Update: A Chinese biophysicist jailed in China for his role in helping to create the world's first gene-edited babies is a free man once more. The release of He Jiankui, who was convicted and sentenced to three years behind bars in December 2019 on charges of practicing medicine illegally, was verified to MIT Technology Review by "people familiar with the situation." "It's not convenient to talk right now," He said to the publication when reached by phone. He said basically the same when contacted by the South China Morning Post. It's not clear if the Stanford-trained scientist plans to return to scientific research, either in China or abroad. Meanwhile, two bioethicists have asked China's government to create an initiative to keep tabs on the health of the three so-called CRISPR babies. Our original story from December 2019 follows:

Three researchers involved in the births of genetically edited babies have been convicted and sentenced for practicing medicine illegally, Chinese state media said Monday. Xinhua reports that lead researcher He Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 3 million yuan ($430,000). Two other people received lesser sentences and fines. Zhang Renli was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1 million yuan. Qin Jinzhou received an 18-month sentence, but with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 yuan fine. He, the lead researcher, shocked the scientific world when he announced in November 2018 that he'd helped make the world's first genetically edited babies—twin girls born that month.

The announcement sparked a global debate over the ethics of gene editing, the AP reports. He said he'd used a tool called CRISPR to alter a gene in embryos to try to help them resist infection with the AIDS virus. The Xinhua report, citing court documents, said the researchers were involved in the births of three gene-edited babies to two women. The court said the three researchers hadn't obtained qualification as doctors to practice medicine, pursued fame and profits, deliberately violated Chinese regulations on scientific research, and crossed an ethical line in both scientific research and medicine. It also said they'd fabricated ethical review documents. (More CRISPR stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.