Scientist who created CRISPR babies given jail time

Dec. 30, 2019

A scientist who surprised the medical world last year by producing the world’s first gene-edited babies has been sent to prison by a Chinese court.  

In November 2018, He Jiankui claimed he had successfully altered embryos during fertility treatments for several couples in China. Jiankui said that he had edited the embryos of at least two of the babies — twin girls who were born to a healthy mother and an HIV-positive father — so that they would be resistant to HIV. Although Jiankui said he was motivated to edit the babies to combat the stigma against HIV-infected patients seeking fertility treatments, others claimed that he was hoping to achieve fame by taking the historical step of using nascent gene-editing CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The bigger concern was also that the long-term repercussions of editing human embryos are still unknown, making gene-editing potential dangerous for the wider population.

Jiankui’s announcement was met with widespread condemnation in the medical world. Although researchers are working on editing genes in embryos in the U.S. and UK, the work has so far been restricted to labs, and it is still illegal to implant edited embryos into patients.

In addition to receiving three years jailtime for implanting an edited embryo into a patient, Jiankui was also given a lifetime ban from working in the field of reproductive life sciences and applying for related research grants.  

Read the full Wall Street Journal report.