The Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court on Monday convicted and sentenced researcher He Jiankui and two collaborators, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, for carrying out human embryo gene-editing and reproductive medical activities.
In a closed court session, the trio were criticized for illegal medical practices and violations of regulations and ethical standards related to their use of CRISPR gene-editing tools to alter the CCR5 gene in human embryos. These embryos were implanted using assisted reproduction and resulted in three babies born to two women.
The gene edits were intended to confer HIV immunity to the babies, but there is evidence in He’s unpublished manuscripts that the attempt may have failed and resulted in unintended edits. Instead of matching the CCR5 delta 32 mutation that occurs in nature, the embryos displayed partial edits and novel variations. The embryos may also have incurred unknown off-target mutations. The consequences of these edits and mutations remain unclear.
The court sentenced He Jiankui to three years in prison and imposed a fine of about $430,000. Zhang Renli was sentenced to two years in prison and fined about $145,000, while Qin Jinzhou was sentenced to one and a half years in prison and fined about $72,000.
In addition to the court’s decision, the three researchers have also been given lifetime bans by Chinese health administration departments, preventing them from engaging in work related to gene-editing and assisted reproductive technologies. They have also been barred from obtaining financial funding for future research projects.