The Chinese scientist He Jiankui, creator of the first babies genetically modified, has been sentenced this morning to three years in jail and to pay a fine of three million yuan (380,000 euros). A Shenzhen court has found him guilty of “illegally carrying out the genetic editing of several human embryos for reproductive purposes.” The information, advanced by the official news agency, Xinhua, also confirms that there were three children born as a result of the experiment.
He Jiankui, known as a result of the event as “the Chinese Frankenstein”, announced in November 2018 that he had manipulated two human embryos through a genetic editing technique, known as CRISPR, in order to make them immune to the AIDS virus. The twins, who received the names of Lulu and Nana, were born “weeks ago” and were “in perfect health.”
After two days of silence, the geneticist, an employee of the University of Science and Technology of Shenzhen and trained at the American universities of Rice and Stanford, confessed the existence of a third fertilization at a scientific summit held in Hong Kong. “I am proud, I am very proud,” he said then.
He Jiankui then faced a huge amount of criticism from his colleagues, most of whom questioned his claims and regretted his lack of ethics when carrying out an illegal procedure in most countries of the world, China among them. Protests were joined by Nobel Prize for Medicine David Baltimore, who described his conduct as “irresponsible.” 122 academics from the Chinese scientific community published a joint statement stating that “any attempt” to make changes in human embryos through genetic modifications is “crazy”, and that the birth of these babies represented “a high risk.”
This Monday, the Shenzhen court has ruled that He “craved fame and fortune,” and that he skipped “the national regulations on scientific research and medical management deliberately.” The ruling also states that I have falsified documents and provided false information, “exceeding all ethical lines”, in order to achieve the implantation of genetically modified embryos.
Two collaborators, Zhang Yili and Qin Jinzhou, workers from two medical institutions in the area have been convicted. The three defendants have accepted the charges. Likewise, several people involved in the procedure, whose final number has not transcended, have been blacklisted and will be banned for the life of any other job related to the medical world.