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

Biological researcher He Jiankui (right) attends the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong on November 28, 2018 in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Zhang Wei/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images. Biological researcher He Jiankui (right) attends the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong on November 28, 2018 in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Zhang Wei/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images.

In December 2019, a Chinese court sentenced Jiankui 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.

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.

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