A hot potato: Last year, a team of Chinese scientists became the first to genetically engineer a human embryo. Now three of the researchers have been sentenced to jail time, fines, and medical bans by the Chinese government.
China-run news outlet Xinhua reports that He Jiankui has been sentenced to three years in prison for “illegal medical practices.” He was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) and received a lifetime ban from practicing reproductive medicine.
Two other members, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, were also charged and sentenced to two years plus one million yuan ($143,000) and 18 months with a 500,000 yuan ($71,000) fine, respectively. There were seven other co-authors on the paper, but it is unclear if officials are taking action against them.
He Jiankui made news in November 2018 when he came forward and revealed that his team had used a gene-modifying tool called CRISPR-Cas9 on a set of twins to alter the CCR5 gene to make the babies resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. While the cause may have seemed noble, the government claims the actions were experimental and crossed moral and ethical boundaries since it amounted to human experimentation. The state quickly opened an investigation into the matter and later arrested He.
"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," said the court ruling.
According to officials, several other unethical practices were uncovered during the probe, including an allegation that triplets rather than twins were involved in the genetic experiment. Additionally, the seven couples involved with the study were also reportedly told that they were part of an AIDS vaccine trial instead of gene manipulation, which, if true, makes the whole thing all the more unethical.