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China sentences 'gene-editing' scientist to three years in prison

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    Reuters

Beijing, China   /   Mon, December 30, 2019   /   03:45 pm
China sentences 'gene-editing' scientist to three years in prison He Jiankui, the Shenzhen-based scientist who shocked the world this week with his revelation, spoke for the first time at a genetics conference in Hong Kong. (Bloomberg/File)

A Chinese court sentenced the scientist who created the world's first "gene-edited" babies to three years in prison on Monday, according to the official Xinhua news agency, on charges of illegally practicing medicine.

He Jiankui, then an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in November 2018 that he had used gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to change the genes of twin girls to protect them from getting infected with the AIDS virus in the future.

The backlash in China and globally about the ethics of his research and work was fast and widespread.

He and his collaborators forged ethical review materials and recruited men with AIDS who were part of a couple to carry out the gene-editing. His experiments ultimately resulted in two women giving birth to three gene-edited babies, according to Xinhua.

The court also handed lesser sentences to Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who worked at two unnamed medical institutions, for having conspired with He in his work.

"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 said, according to Xinhua.

"They've crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics."