Controversial Gene-Editing Scientist To Face Punishment in China

By Bryan Grogan, January 23, 2019

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Controversial gene-editing scientist He Jiankui is facing criminal charges after a government investigation into his activities found that he had flouted Chinese laws, according to a report of governmental findings by Xinhua

The report goes on to state that He had defied government bans and had undertaken the research in “pursuit of personal fame and gain.”

The preliminary findings show that the former associate professor raised funds, deliberately evaded supervision, privately organized relevant personnel and implemented genetic editing activities on human embryos for reproductive purposes prohibited by the state. 

He hit headlines in November last year, after he revealed to the media that he had successfully used CRISPR technology to alter the CCR5 gene in a number of embryos, thereby making them immune to the HIV virus. 

Backlash against He Jiankui was swift, however, with many scientists outside of China saying that his actions disregarded ethical implications. It was not clear how many people had taken part in the experiment at the time.

READ MORE: Another Gene-Edited Baby May Be on the Way, Reveals Chinese Scientist

Now, the government findings show that 13 couples took part in the experiment. Of those 13, one has already given birth to twins Lulu and Nana, as revealed by He Jiankui in November, while another is currently pregnant. Six couples decided to leave the experiment and five other couples did not successfully conceive. 

On the same day that the government report on the incident was revealed, He’s employer, Southern University of Science and Technology, terminated his contract and said that he would cease all teaching and research activities with the school. 

Since the backlash against He's experimental research, high-ranking officials in China have called for updated laws and a central authority for bioscience in the country, in order to ensure that a case like He’s does not happen again. 

He and other scientists on his team will now be punished according to the law. It is still unclear what sort of punishment they will face. 

READ MORE: Global Outcry After China Creates World's First Gene-Edited Babies

[Cover image via Wikimedia]

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