Science

Three years imprisonment for germline experiments

Chinese researcher He Jiankui has been imprisoned for three years because of unauthorized germline experiments that led to the birth of the twin sisters “Nana” and “Lulu”.

According to the Xinhua State News Agency, a court in southern China's Shenzhen City tried the “to protect people” case, and also sentenced the scientist to a fine of approximately three million yuan, approximately 383.000 Euro.

According to the report on Monday, the 35 year-old was found guilty of “deceiving” the parents of the twins about the background of germline therapy when to have also obtained permits from ethics committees under the wrong conditions. With the intention to achieve “fame and profit”, he “intentionally violated the relevant national regulations of scientific and medical research and exceeded the limits of scientific and medical ethics,” the Xinhua news agency quoted the court.

A third genetically modified child was born in summer

In the report it was also announced that in addition to “Nana” and “Lulu”, another of The team of the genetic manipulated child was born, probably in the summer 2019. No further details were given.

Together with He, two other scientists, embryologists Qin Jinzhou and Zhang Renli, were sentenced to prison terms of 18 months and two years, respectively – apparently because they were the ones who injected the CRISPR / Cas9 gene scissors into the embryos. This emerges from the unpublished manuscript about the experiment, which was recently published in part by the science magazine “Technology Review” and commented on by experts. It remains unclear who inserted the manipulated embryos into the mother's uterus. According to the reports, the court does not name the fertilization clinic or any reproductive medicine involved; information that is also missing from He Jiankui's manuscript on the experiment.

Nothing is known about the scientific background of Zhang Renli, who works at the reproductive medicine center of the Guangdong Academy of Medical Science in Guangzhou. Qin Jinzhou, on the other hand, has a veterinary degree from the College of Animal Research and Technology in Shaanxi and according to his previous publications, experience with the genetic engineering of mouse and pig cells, but not human. The AP news agency, which reported He Jiankuis' germline experiments, released a photo of He's lab, which shows Qin Jinzhou at work. In addition to He, he apparently played a central role in the experiments, especially since – as is usual in such cases – he is named as the first author on the unpublished manuscript.

Resistance to HIV questioned by experts

He said he had changed the genome of at least two human embryos with the help of the CRISPR / Cas9 gene scissors. He justified the experiment, which violated an international moratorium on such germline interventions supported by several research organizations, by arguing that it had made the children resistant to infections with the HIV virus. However, experts doubt whether he succeeded with the changes made in the CCR5 gene.

In Germany, comparable experiments on embryos would also lead to three years in prison – this is what the Embryo Protection Act provides for. However, there is no such law in China that expressly prohibits germline therapies. The researchers have been convicted of other violations of the law, such as bypassing approval by an ethics committee and endangering patient safety. If the children had suffered noticeable health disadvantages, the punishment could have been higher – up to ten years.

He, Zhang or Jinzhou will no longer be able to carry out further experiments on embryos. According to the court, they are prohibited from performing reproductive surgery on human patients for the rest of their lives.

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