A doctor in China has been jailed for conducting horrific genetic experiments on unborn babies.
He Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison this week for genetically manipulating the DNA of three babies before they were born. Jiankui’s experiment caused international outrage after he announced in November of 2018 that he had successfully changed the DNA of twin girls Lulu and Nana when they were still embryos. The experiment involved editing a gene associated with HIV infections to make the twins resistant. One of the problems with the experiment, however, is that no one knows the effects of genetically altered DNA on human beings or their offspring.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua, reported that Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison for illegally practicing medicine. He also was fined 3 million yuan (about $450,000).
Scientists across the world expressed skepticism and alarm about Jiankui’s work. Even if he did successfully edit the three babies’ DNA, there is no way of knowing the future effects the modified DNA would have on the babies or their own eventual offspring.
The results of his experiments have never been peer reviewed, or independently verified.
Jiankui initially defended his experiment, arguing that scientists have a responsibility to work to end the growing HIV problem in China.
“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” He told the AP. “Society will decide what to do next.”
According to the London Daily Mirror, two other scientists, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzho, who were involved in the highly controversial experiment, also received lesser sentences in the trial in which Jiankui pled guilty to the charges against him.
In November, Jiankui originally announced that he had performed the genetic manipulation on two baby girls. This was the first time that the state news outlet, Xinhua, confirmed that he had actually genetically changed a third baby’s DNA as well.
“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,” the court ruled, according to Xinhua. “They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”
Jiankui was an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen before he was fired and charged for the unethical experiment.