He Jiankui, a scientist, has gone to jail for 3 years for genetically engineering babies in China. The judge gave the sentence stating that the scientist and his team had ‘crossed the bottom line of ethics.’ A Chinese court sent him to jail for editing the gene of babies- the first ever in the world.
Jiankui was sent to prison, and his team, which includes Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, were sentenced with 1 million Yuan and 500,000 Yuan, respectively. The state news agency Xinhua stated, “the three accused did not have the proper certification to practice medicine, deliberately violated national regulations in scientific research and medical treatment.”
The court in Shenzhen actually found He Jiankui guilty of forging approval documents from the ethics review board so that he could recruit couples affected with HIV. According to Dr He, he was trying to prevent the infants from getting infected by the virus. But it has been found that he was fooling both the subjects as well as the medical authorities.
Last year in November, He Jiankui claimed to have created the world’s first genetically modified babies using CRISPR/Cas9, which is a gene editor. Due to ethical concerns, such methods are banned in the US as well as in other countries. The procedure requires to produce changes in the babies in the embryonic stage, which is ethically not right; the risk of side effects is very high. Genetic mutations cannot be rectified and are passed down the generations; the risk of it going wrong are very high.
The community of science has some serious apprehensions regarding gene editing. Dr. He was fired from the Southern University of Science and Technology from Shenzhen. After analyzing his work, it was found there were several potential errors that actually put the babies’ health at risk. Technically the experiment was to make the babies resistant to HIV by tweaking the CCR5 gene.
This gene seems to affect the resistance to the Human Immuno Virus (HIV). Every human being has 2 copies of this gene, which they get from both parents (one of each). People who researched Jiankui’s work pointed out that he had simply edited a single gene, not both. The work that he had carried out contained too many errors. They revealed afterward that the babies were not resistant to HIV despite the procedure.
Fyodor Urnov, a genome-editing scientist, stated, “the claim they have reproduced the prevalent CCR5 variant is a misrepresentation of the actual data and can only be described by one term: a deliberate falsehood”.Source
Dr. He had created quite the storm last year when he proclaimed to genetically modified the genes of the babies at a conference in Hong Kong. But on Monday, it was found out that his tweaking of the genes had resulted in a third genetically modified baby, and this was not disclosed previously.
Dr. He had become aware of the profit he could receive from the human embryo-gene editing technology in 2016. Xinhua also reported that the three people involved failed to produce any documents that had a doctor’s approval and decided to pursue the agenda to make a profit out of it. The court also accused them of illegal malpractice. All three people are now banned from taking part in any service involving the human-assisted reproductive technology for life.
This year in January, the Guandong Province Health Commission found out that He did most of the work for personal gains in fame and fortune. In fact, he used self-raised funds; he deliberately chose not to have any supervision and conducted private recruitment of related personnel. Not only did he forge documents, but he also faked the result of blood tests to avoid being caught. Finally, he pleads guilty in court and has been sent to prison for three years with a fine of three million Yuan.