Scientist Who Used CRISPR on Embryos Sentenced to Prison

The scientist who used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technique on twin infant girls has been sentenced to prison. CRISPR is a controversial technique that is not legal to use for reproductive-purposes in some countries. This news was first reported by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, and was reported by several other news sites after that.

He Jiankui is the scientist behind the birth of the world’s first gene-edited babies. He announced that he had used CRISPR technology on embryos in 2018. He Jiankui used CRISPR to disable a gene for a protein that the HIV virus binds to. He did this because the father of the twin girls had HIV. He Jiankui and his team hoped that the babies would be born resistant to HIV.

The twin girls are being referred to as Lulu and Nana. They are, in theory, immune to the HIV virus. It is unknown whether this use of CRISPR actually worked, or how the genetic modifications might affect the girls later in life. A third gene-edited baby born to a second mother was confirmed by He Jiankui.

In 2003, China’s health ministry issued regulation prohibiting gene-editing of human-embryos. The CRISPR technique is allowed to be used for “non-reproductive purposes.”

A Chinese court sentenced He Jiankui to three years in prison for “illegally carrying out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction.” He was also fined $430,000. Two of his fellow researchers were also sentenced. Zhang Renli was handed a two-year jail term and fined one million yuan. Qin Jinzhou was given 18 months, suspended for two years, and fined 500,000 yuan.

This situation could influence other countries to make rules regarding what CRISPR/Cas9 can – and cannot – be used for. Countries need to take the time to consider the ethical ramifications of the use of this gene-editing technology.

Related Articles at

UK Scientists Can Begin Genetically Editing Embryos

Opposition to Genetic Modification of Embryos

Doctors Alter U.S. Woman’s Genes with CRISPR

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