Chinese researcher He Jiankui, who stirred up a global controversy last year when he said his experiment produced twin baby girls with gene-edited traits, has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $430,000 fine, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
The Chinese researcher behind a controversial experiment to produce gene-edited children took the stage at a Hong Kong conference to explain his work, and acknowledged that the international outcry has brought a halt to the experiment.
“The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation,” He Jiankui, a biomedical researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said today at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing.
The university says He (pronounced “Heh”) has been on unpaid leave since January, and today Chinese news outlets reported that his lab on campus has been shut down and sealed off for investigation.
Multiple investigations are being sought in the wake of reports that a Chinese laboratory facilitated the birth of twin girls whose genes had been edited to protect them against the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
The first-of-its-kind experiment, which took advantage of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, came to light in reports published late Sunday by MIT Technology Review and The Associated Press. The researcher in charge of the project, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, also published a series of videos explaining the gene-editing project.
There has been no outside confirmation of He’s claims, but geneticists and health policymakers say such claims raise grave ethical issues — including the prospect of creating designer babies, enhancing traits and even introducing exotic new traits.
A Chinese researcher says his lab facilitated the first birth of gene-edited children — twin girls who are said to possess genetic alterations that could protect them from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
“Two beautiful little Chinese girls, named Lulu and Nana, came crying into this world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago. The girls are home now,” He Jiankui, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in a YouTube video.
If confirmed, the report is certain to bring the ethical issues surrounding human genetic engineering into sharp focus, and could lead either to rapid developments in the technology or regulatory limits.