Chinese researcher He Jiankui has been sentenced to three years of imprisonment and a fine of $430,000 for using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to alter the DNA of embryos of seven couples.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a medical procedure that allows scientists to identify specific gene sequences, clip them out, and replace them.
Jiankui used CRISPR to disable a gene known as CCR5, which creates a “protein that allows HIV to enter a cell.”
The men of all the seven couples had HIV, while the women did not.
Jiankui said, “The gene editing’s goal wasn’t to prevent transmission of HIV because all seven men’s HIV infections were strongly suppressed by standard HIV drugs.”
He performed the CRISPR editing during in vitro fertilization (IVF). Semen was separated from sperms, where HIV is present, and then a single sperm was inserted into a single egg to produce an embryo. And then the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool was utilized.
Two twins were born, while there has been no news about the others.
The Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court sentenced Jiankui to three years in prison and a fine of $430,000. The court also sentenced two other researchers, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who worked with Jiankui.
Zhang was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and a fine of $143,000. Qin was sentenced to one year and six months of imprisonment and a fine of $71,600/
Xinhua News Agency reported that all three scientists pleaded guilty in criminal trials closed to the public. They are also banned from performing human-assisted reproductive technology services for life.
According to the news agency, “The court held that the three defendants failed to obtain a doctor’s qualification and pursued profit, deliberately violated the relevant national regulations on scientific research and medical management, crossed the bottom line of scientific and medical ethics, and rashly applied gene-editing technology to human-assisted reproductive medicine, and disrupted the medical treatment.” “The nature of their behavior is serious and has constituted the crime of illegal medical practice,” it added.