Bioethics Blogs

Press Release: The moral imperative to research editing embryos: The need to modify Nature and Science

The first study in which the DNA of human embryos was intentionally modified has been published in the journal Protein & Cell, released on Saturday. This research is significant because it may be an important step toward a world where we are free from genetic disease. However allegations that Nature and Science refused to publish this research on ethical grounds are concerning.

The Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics Professor Julian Savulescu has called on Nature and Science to clearly explain their editorial decisions in relation this study.

“If these studies were rejected for ethical reasons we need to know what these reasons are.” Professor Savulescu said.

“There was absolutely no potential for this research to directly result in the birth of a modified human and it is unclear how the study could have harmed or wronged anyone.

Nature should explain why it deems this research ethically problematic, and yet publishes other controversial research, involving viruses, with the potential to directly kill millions of people.”

The study by Huang and co-authors represents a small but important step in advancing gene editing techniques and understanding their risks. Gene editing techniques hold the promise of curing genetic defects such as cystic fibrosis, thalassaemia, Huntington Disease, and some forms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The reasons for pursuing research which may one day allow for the eradication of genetic diseases are clear. However the authors of the study have reported they were rejected by Nature and Science on ethical grounds.

This follows Nature and Science both publishing commentaries calling for a moratorium on this type of research, or for it to be strongly discouraged.  The timing of these commentaries is remarkable and might have influenced other journals to follow their editorial decision and not publish the Huang study.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.