Three researchers involved in creating gene-edited babies were sentenced on Monday as China confirmed a third gene-edited child was also born, according to its state news agency.
The existence of the first two children, Lulu and Nana, were announced by He in November 2018 at the International Human Genome Editing Summit, but there was no mention of a third child, until recently.
He Jiankui got three years in prison for practicing medicine without a license. He was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) by a court in the southern city of Shenzhen for his role in implanting "genetically-engineered embryos into the females' body," Xinhua reported.
"[T]heir acts were 'in the pursuit of personal fame and gain' and have seriously 'disrupted medical order,'" the state-run news agency added.
Zhang was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1 million yuan ($143,000), Xinhua reported. Qin received an 18-month prison sentence, but with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 ($72,000) yuan fine.
The verdict said the three defendants had not obtained qualification as doctors, pursued fame and profits, deliberately violated Chinese regulations on scientific research, and crossed an ethical line in both scientific research and medicine, according to Xinhua. It also said they had fabricated ethical review documents.
Following the November 2018 revelation, there was an enormous global debate over the ethics of what He and the other researchers had done, including the use of a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR. The Chinese government ordered a halt to their work shortly after the announcement. He was reported as missing that December and was fired from the university where the research was conducted.
Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, the college where Jiankui worked, issued a statement, condemning the claim. "The University was deeply shocked by this event and has taken immediate action to reach Dr. Jiankui He for clarification. Dr. Jiankui He’s previous affiliation, the Department of Biology (hereafter the Department) called an emergency meeting of the Department Academic Committee," the university said in a November 2018 statement.
Others called for extensive scrutiny regarding Jiankui's claims, including one of CRISPR's co-inventors, Dr. Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley, who said at the time that the work needed to be verified before it can be substantiated.
“If verified, this work is a break from the cautious and transparent approach of the global scientific community’s application of CRISPR-Cas9 for human germline editing," Doudna said in November.
The CRISPR tool has been tested elsewhere in adults to treat diseases, but many in the scientific community denounced He's work as medically unnecessary and unethical, because any genetic changes could be passed down to future generations. The U.S. forbids editing embryos except for lab research.
He, who is known as “JK," told the AP in 2018 that he felt a strong responsibility to make an example, and that society would decide whether to allow the practice to go forward. He disappeared from public view shortly after he announced his research at a conference in Hong Kong 13 months ago, and was apparently detained by authorities, initially in an apartment in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong province that borders Hong Kong.
It wasn't clear if the three-year prison term includes any of the time he has already spent in custody.
Fox News' Amy Liu, Greg Norman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.