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Chinese 'gene-editing' scientist sentenced to three years in prison

Team altered babies' genes, attempting to protect them against AIDS virus

Scientist He Jiankui displays "The Human Genome," a book he edited, at his company Direct Genomics in Shenzhen, China, in this file photo from Aug. 4, 2016.    ¬© Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) -- 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."

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