Scientific Community Approves Human Gene Editing Studies

Scientific Community Approves Human Gene Editing Studies

Human gene editing research is extremely controversial due to numerous ethical, moral and legal reasons that some groups would prefer to see it banned outright.

Those who do want it to move forward can breathe easily for now, though, as the leaders of a summit held by the US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society have decided to support human gene editing research. The scientists are even OK with modifying eggs, sperm and embryos (collectively called germline cells), so long as the edited cells stay in the lab and aren’t used to induce pregnancies. In other words, creating designer babies is a no-no. We’ll bet that means the NIH will uphold the ban on funding studies that deal with embryo engineering.

The attendees are very much aware of the benefits of germline editing, such as the elimination of genetic conditions or inherited diseases in fetuses. However, they believe it’s “irresponsible to proceed with any clinical” trial until we understand its risks and benefits better and “there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of engineering a child. The summit had no issue with studies working on cells that don’t pass down genetic info, though. Some of those studies are already undergoing clinical trials, such as a project by one private bioscience company that aims to fix broken genes to tackle hemophilia. Another study aims to edit genes to cure sickle cell disease, while one hopes to improve our immune system’s ability to target cancerous cells.

The American, British and Chinese organizations involved in the summit will continue assessing the issues raised during the event within the next year. They’re also calling for an ongoing forum to discuss and streamline regulations, and, in time, to establish the acceptable uses of germline editing.

Credit: Mariella Moon for Science News

4 December 2015