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(CNN) - A Chinese scientist who helped create the world's first genetically edited babies was sentenced to three years in prison.
He Jiankui shocked the world in 2018 when he announced that the Lulu and Nana twins had been born with modified DNA to make them resistant to HIV, which he had managed to use with the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool before birth.
He, an associate professor at the University of Science and Technology of the South in Shenzhen, said at the time that he was "proud" of the achievement. He later claimed that a second woman was pregnant as a result of her investigation.
But many of his colleagues condemned him and the experiment was labeled "monstrous", "unethical" and a "big blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research. Many people within the scientific community raised ethical concerns, including the level of consent they had obtained from the parents of the babies and the level of transparency around gene editing.
On Monday, the Shenzhen Nanshan District People's Court sentenced him to three years behind bars and a fine of 3 million yuan (US $ 430,000), China's state Xinhua news agency reported.
According to the court's findings, He realized the possible economic gains from human embryo gene editing technology in 2016, Xinhua reported. He worked with two medical researchers, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, to use gene editing technology to produce HIV-resistant babies.
“The court held that the three defendants failed to obtain the qualification of a doctor and sought profit, deliberately violated the relevant national regulations on scientific research and medical management, crossed the final line of scientific and medical ethics and abruptly applied editing technology. genes for human-assisted reproductive medicine and interrupted medical treatment, ”Xinhua reported. "The nature of their behavior is serious and has constituted the crime of illegal medical practice."
Zhang was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1 million yuan (US $ 143,000), while Qin received a suspended sentence of one year and six months in prison and a fine of 500,000 yuan (US $ 71,600). According to Xinhua, the three defendants pleaded guilty in trials that were closed to the public to protect individual privacy.
According to reports, the three defendants have also been banned from participating in human-assisted reproductive technology services for life.
The edition of embryo genes for pregnancy is prohibited in many countries, including the United States. In the United Kingdom, embryos can only be edited for research purposes with strict regulatory approval. It is unknown if the procedure is safe or, if used in pregnancy, if it may have undesirable consequences for babies later in life or for future generations.
In January of this year, researchers from the Guangdong Province Health Commission said that He had done the job “in search of personal fame and fortune, with his own funds and deliberate evasion of supervision and private recruitment of related personnel " Authorities also said he falsified documents of ethical review and blood tests to circumvent the ban on assisted reproduction for patients with HIV.
China has invested heavily in gene editing technology, and the government has funded the research of a series of “new developments” worldwide, including the first use of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool in humans in 2016 and the first reported use of gene editing technology to modify non-viable human embryos in 2015.