State news agency Xinhua stated that three scientists involved—He, Qin Jinzhou and Zhang Renli —had been detained for their involvement previously this week. The report said He was punished to three years in prison “for unlawfully carrying out human embryo gene-editing planned for reproduction, in which three genetically edited babies were born.”
HE announced the births of Lulu and Nana at the International Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong in November 2018. He, who was then dismissed from his position at the Southern University of Science and Technology, made very few specifics of the experiments known. He said to have modified embryos so any babies born from the experiment would be more resistant to HIV.
In April 2018, emails sent to American Nobel-winning scientist Craig Mello , He confirmed the early pregnancy. In one email, acquired by the Associated Press, He wrote: “Good news! The woman is pregnant, the genome editing an achievement! The embryo with CCR5 gene-edited was transplanted to the woman 12 days ago, and today the pregnancy is confirmed.”
Mello replied saying he did not want any participation in the research saying he would “rather not be kept in the loop.” He added there is no therapeutic need for the experiments and that he is placing the health of the babies in danger.
“I just don’t see the reason you are doing this,” Mello told He.
At the seminar in Hong Kong, He also said another woman was also expecting with a gene-edited baby. Chinese officials confirmed this after an investigation into He’s work.
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William Hurlbut, a bioethicist and physician at Stanford University, told AFP that at the time of the seminar, the woman’s pregnancy had been discovered “chemically, not clinically … So it could be not beyond four to six weeks old [at the time], so today it could be near 12 to 14 weeks.” This would mean the baby would have been expected in June or July 2019. Xinhua said the pregnant woman would be kept under medical inspection, but after that, there has been no news of her or the baby.
Other than its presence, not anything else is known about the third gene-edited baby.
The scientific community has widely criticized him. After the news He had been imprisoned for his work, Fyodor Urnov, genome-editing scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Newsweek: “As a consequence [of He’s experiments], the field of gene editing will now hold the #designerbabies hashtag that cannot be erased from the popular realization by any legal action.
“As CRISPR moves onward in the clinic for the essential medical goal of curing existing disease, and as we rejoice with cautious optimism the amazing recent success in treating sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, the hope is that He’s criminal act will not only turn him the Herostratus of the field, but act as a constant warning against anyone thinking following in his footsteps.”