Chinese scientist convicted of gene editing gets Hong Kong visa

Chinese biophysicist. who was jailed for creating the world’s first gene-edited children, said on Tuesday he was looking for staff after Hong Kong granted him a research visa, to the consternation of the scientific community.

He Jiankui was sentenced to prison in 2019 for illegally experimenting with human embryos in a controversial experiment that produced twin girls with genes he altered to confer immunity to HIV.

“Considering a job in Hong Kong”

“I am currently contacting Hong Kong universities, research organizations and companies,” the 39-year-old told reporters in Beijing.

“If there are certain and suitable opportunities, I will consider working in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that he intends to continue his work on “gene therapy for rare diseases.”

The scientist, who was released last April, announced over the weekend that he had been granted a visa as part of a scheme to attract talent to Hong Kong.

Kiran Musunuru, a leading professor of genetics at the University of Pennsylvania, said he was “appalled” by the decision of the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

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“He Jiankui is a convicted felon,” he told AFP, “and extremely incompetent as a scientist.”

“Experimenting children and causing them genetic damage, as he did, is, in my opinion, a form of child abuse.”

“Violated medical order”

A Chinese scientist stunned the scientific community in 2018 by announcing the birth of genetically modified twins. The following year, a third gene-edited child was born.

After an international conviction, He, who was educated at Stanford University, was imprisoned by a Chinese court in December 2019 and fined three million yuan ($430,000).

The court said it “illegally performed gene editing on a human embryo intended for reproduction,” Chinese state media reported at the time.

Two of He’s colleagues were also sentenced in 2019. Zhang Renli was sentenced to two years in prison and fined one million yuan, while Qin Jinzhou was sentenced to 18 months in prison with a two-year suspension and fined 500,000 yuan.

According to the court’s verdict, the trio were not qualified to work as doctors and knowingly violated China’s rules and ethical principles, the Xinhua news agency reported.

They acted “in the pursuit of personal glory and gain” and seriously “disrupted the medical order,” he added.