He Jiankui, the biophysicist who back in November of 2018 claimed in an online video that he genetically modified the embryo of two unborn twin girls creating the worlds first CRISPR babies, has been sentenced to 3 years in jail and fined $430,000 for a charge of “illegal medical practice” by a Chinese court in Shenzhen. Two other colleagues, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who assisted He plead guilty and were also handed sentences. The trial also brought to light the fact that He’s team had falsified their regulatory paperwork.
November 25, 2018, in a viral video that shocked the scientific community, He Jiankui announces that the first CRISPR babies are here. In the video, He Jiankui claims that he used CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool, to modify a gene that, when expressed, codes for a protein receptor used by HIV to infiltrate and infect white blood cells. This new modification would supposedly mutate the gene to a different form which would render the twins immune from contracting specific strains of the viral disease.
His announcement was followed swiftly by a barrage of criticism from not the media, but also his scientific peers. Groups all around the world questioned the ethics his actions and scientist questions efficacy of the experiment. Not only that but concerns were raised about the unintended consequences of what would happen when changes to the human genome, which the effects we cant yet predict, are passed down into the population.
During the trial, Chinese authorities stated that, “None of the three defendants acquired doctor’s qualifications. [They] craved fame and fortune, and deliberately went against the country’s regulations on scientific research and medical management. [They] went beyond the bottom lines of scientific research and medical ethics,” according to Kinling Lo from a report in South China Morning Post.
All three of the defendants admitted to the charges and other personal that was involved in the experiment were blacklisted and banned from their field and all jobs related.