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Scientist who changed babies DNA so they won’t ever catch HIV jailed

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced the scientist who claimed to be behind the world’s first gene-edited babies to three years in prison for illegal medical practice, state media reported.

He Jiankui, who shocked the scientific community last year by announcing the birth of twin girls whose genes had allegedly been altered to confer immunity to HIV, was also fined three million yuan (R6m), Xinhua news agency said.

He, who was educated at Stanford University, was sentenced by a court in Shenzhen for “illegally carrying out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction”, Xinhua said.

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Two of his fellow researchers were also sentenced. Zhang Renli was handed a two-year jail term and fined one million yuan while Qin Jinzhou was given 18 months, suspended for two years, and fined 500,000 yuan.

The trio had not obtained qualifications to work as doctors and had knowingly violated China’s regulations and ethical principles, according to the court verdict, Xinhua said.

They had acted “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain” and seriously “disrupted medical order”, it said.

What are the ethics of baby gene-editing?

“It’s obvious that everything that is technically feasible is not ethically desirable,” said Cynthia Fleury

The researchers had forged ethical review materials and recruited couples where the husband was HIV positive for their gene-editing experiments.

The trial was held behind closed doors as the case related to “personal privacy”, Xinhua said.

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