Follow the money: What the sources of Jiankui He’s funding reveal about what Beijing authorities knew about illegal CRISPR babies, and when they knew it

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Kathleen M. Vogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In December 2019, a Chinese court sentenced Jiankiu He, the scientist who used genome editing to create three babies via in vitro fertilization (IVF), to three years in prison for practicing medicine without a license. The court claimed that He violated Chinese law when he forged ethical review documents and misled doctors into unknowingly implanting genetically altered embryos into two women the previous year. He stated that he had taken a leave from his university prior to starting the clinical stage of his project, and that he financed that part of the study from his own personal savings, therefore seemingly absolving his university and Chinese authorities of any responsibility in the affair. But to many observers, it seems inconceivable that Jiankui He could have engaged in this research without at least tacit government approval. This paper explores the sources of funding for He’s experiment, in an attempt to clarify what Chinese authorities knew or should have known–and whether it is conceivable that He could have completed the clinical phase of the project with no direct government knowledge. It then analyzes the roles that China’s science policy and scientific culture played in enabling He to act as he did.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-199
Number of pages8
JournalBulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Volume76
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 3 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • CRISPR
  • CRISPR babies
  • gene-editing
  • human embryo editing
  • human enhancement
  • Jiankui He

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations

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