Scientist Jailed for Baby Gene-Editing Back in the Lab

He Jiankui is a Chinese scientist. Five years ago, he created the world’s first gene-edited babies—twin girls named Lulu and Nana.

Accused of “illegal medical practices,” he was taken into custody and jailed for three years over fears surrounding the ethics of “designer babies” and the unknowns surrounding its long-term safety.

Now he’s getting back to work.

In an interview, he explained that’s because over 2,000 patients had reached out to him for help. All of them suffer from a genetic disease called DMD, which causes progressive and severe muscle weakness. The average life expectancy for those with the condition ranges from 20 to 30 years. There is no cure.

But He Jiankui is trying to change that.

He’s banned from researching reproductive technology and limited on studies linked to human genes.

But inside a new lab in Beijing, he’s using a gene-editor called CRISPR to work on a cure for DMD.

It’s the same tool he used to edit the twins’ embryos. But this time, he’s not adjusting genes on the same level.

He reportedly has five staff members and funding from US-based donors.

His return is raising concerns among experts. Some suggest his motivations could be linked to the Chinese Communist Party, its ambitions in biotechnology development and the global race for dominance.

The scientist says he gets no funding from Beijing, but has contact only to ensure the law is being followed.

In a few months, he hopes to move to animal studies on mice and to human clinical trials by 2025. A major feat given the pharmaceutical industry has been searching for a cure for years.