Chinese Scientist Who Gene-Edited Babies Is Back In Lab After Jail Time

In 2019, a court in China sentenced Mr He to a three-year prison sentence

Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who was sentenced to three years in prison after revealing that he had created the first gene-edited children says he has returned to his laboratory to work on the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other genetic diseases. 

Mr He told a Japanese newspaper that he had resumed research on human embryo genome editing, despite the controversy over the ethics of artificially rewriting genes. He told the Mainichi Shimbun, “We will use discarded human embryos and comply with both domestic and international rules,” adding that he had no plans to produce more genome-edited babies. Previously, he had used a tool known as Crispr-Cas9 to rewrite DNA in embryos.

In 2019, a court in China sentenced Mr He to a three-year in prison for breaching medical regulations. This followed his assertion in the preceding year that he had engineered genetically modified twin sisters, Lulu and Nana, before their birth.

His actions reverberated throughout the medical and scientific communities, eliciting widespread condemnation for proceeding with a risky, ethically contentious, and medically unjustifiable procedure without sufficient consent from the involved families.

The court determined that Mr He had falsified documents from an ethics review panel to enlist couples for his research.

Mr He allegedly utilized the gene-editing technique Crispr-Cas9 to alter the DNA in the embryos of the sisters, asserting that these modifications would confer immunity to HIV upon the children.

Mr He continued to defend his work saying he was “proud” of having created Lulu and Nana, The Guardian reported. Another girl was born through the same experiment in 2019. 

He told the newspaper that he hoped to use genome editing in human embryos to develop treatments for rare genetic diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and familial Alzheimer’s disease, at three laboratories he has opened since his release from jail in 2022. 

He told the newspaper that the three children were perfectly healthy and had no problems with their growth. The twins, now aged 5, were attending kindergarten. 

“The results of analysing [the children’s] entire gene sequences show that there were no modifications to the genes other than for the medical objective, providing evidence that genome editing was safe,” he told the Mainichi. “I’m proud to have helped families who wanted healthy children.”

In 2018, Mr He had stunned the world by claiming to have created the world’s first genetically-edited babies. The professor, who was educated at Stanford in the US, said the DNA of the two girls named Lulu and Nana was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

But Mr He’s actions were considered “foolish” and “dangerous” by experts and a Chinese court found him guilty for this experiment, sentencing him to three years in jail and imposing a fine of 1 million Yuan.