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Scientists shouldn’t edit the human gene pool, expert panel decides

Scientists shouldn’t edit the human gene pool, expert panel decides


At least not right now

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Scientists shouldn't use gene-editing technology to modify human embryos that might result in a person, a group of international experts concluded yesterday in Washington, DC, during the International Summit on Human Gene Editing. The experts also said in a statement it would be "irresponsible" to make changes to the human genome that could be inherited by future generations until we know more about the risks involved.

The statement should not be viewed as an all-out ban on the editing of human embryos or germ cells, however; researchers would still have the opportunity to conduct basic research. And the issue, they said, "should be revisited on a regular basis."

It would be "irresponsible."

The summit — hosted by the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Society, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences — was convened to discuss a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR. CRISPR, which was invented three years ago, can target and alter DNA segments with a high level of accuracy. It could eventually be used to eradicate genetic diseases — or help humans gain in intelligence and beauty, scientists have suggested.

In April, researchers in China revealed that they had tried to remove a gene responsible for a potentially fatal blood disorder in human embryos. Although those embryos were incapable of developing into a live birth, many scientists have expressed ethical concerns about the future of genome editing. That's why yesterday's announcement from a panel of 12 experts is so important. The summit statement authored by the panel makes very clear that any ethical and technical issues should be addressed before researchers attempt to make permanent changes to the human gene pool.1

From the statement: "It would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing unless and until (i) the relevant safety and efficacy issues have been resolved, based on appropriate understanding and balancing of risks, potential benefits, and alternatives, and (ii) there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application. Moreover, any clinical use should proceed only under appropriate regulatory oversight. At present, these criteria have not been met for any proposed clinical use: the safety issues have not yet been adequately explored; the cases of most compelling benefit are limited; and many nations have legislative or regulatory bans on germline modification. However, as scientific knowledge advances and societal views evolve, the clinical use of germline editing should be revisited on a regular basis."

Researchers from the three hosting countries will meet over the course of the next year, according to Nature. They plan to release a consensus report late next year.