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Chinese Researcher Who Created Gene-Edited Babies Sentenced To 3 Years In Prison

By | Rachel Brooks

Contributor | Telegraph Local

See the New African Living Standard

The Chinese medical scientist He Jiankiu has been sentenced to 3 years in prison for illegal medical practice, citing CBS News. He is the doctor who claimed responsibility for gene-editing babies. He left the scientific community smothering in horror and confusion when the doctor announced edited twin sisters. He alleges that the girls were born with immunity to HIV. He also states that he used the gene-altering technique CRISPR to alter their genes. CRISPR has been met with global condemnation because the practice is mysterious. It also broke with global scientific regulation norms. 

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How does it work? Also citing CBS News, while the twins, Lulu and Nana, were still embryos He Jiankiu used chemical “scissors” to kill a gene that makes people more susceptible to HIV-AIDS. He then implanted the embryos again into the girl’s mother who carried them to term and gave birth early in November 2018_making the girls around a year and one-month-old today. 

Citing Xinhua, He has been sentenced along with two accomplices Zhang Renli and Qin Jinhzhou, who have both been fined  1m-500,000 yuan and been sentenced to two years-18 months in prison. They were sentenced in part because they had not been qualified by Chinese law to act as doctors. They willfully violated China’s regulations and ethics policies. The recent reports from Xinhua state a third child with edited genes was born around the same time as Lulu and Nana. This had not been previously confirmed. 

Citing the BBC, a court in Shenzhen states that the men were acting in pursuit of personal fame. The court stated,

“They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.” 

He Jiankiu announced the birth of the twins in an Associated Press video in 2018. He stated then, “I understand that my work will be controversial but I believe families need this technology and I’m willing to take criticism for them.” Which, of course, he did as the backlash in the scientific community was forceful. 

The BBC broke down the methods used in this experiment. They stated that the CCR5 gene was targeted. This is a set of gene instructions that are important for a functioning immune system. They are also the doorway for the HIV virus to pass through the cells. A mutation in CCR5 could essentially lock the door to HIV. It all sounds novel, doesn’t it? Except when you hear the repercussions. 

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The BBC account details He’s experiment as targeting the CCR5 gene but not creating the mutation he wanted. 

First, gene editing can damage other genes. Secondly, the genes that are edited can pass to any future children Lulu and Nana may have. These altered genes would over time grow to produce a permanent change in the human race, citing the experiment breakdown from the BBC. Thirdly, the gene-editing can cause mutations that have never previously existed before. These mutations could cause medical side effects that are unknown. 

Reuters also released a report in 2018 detailing the damages that CRISPR can cause. Reuters stated that the scientists investigating CRISPR/Cas9 have found that it can cause “unexpected” gene damages. The molecular scissor tool employed in CRISPR can also increase the risk of cancer. 

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