Bioethics Blogs

Gene Editing: Hope, Hype, and Caution

It was great scientific research that first noted and then carefully followed the steady and dangerous increase of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It was no less part of the greatness of the research that it weathered its own uncertainty and the organized attacks by those who did not want to hear the bad news. Yet just as the U.N. climate conference was getting underway in Paris, a less noticed scientific event in Washington had reached a conclusion of comparable impact for our human future.

On December 3 the National Academy of Sciences released a statement issued by the International Summit on Human Gene Editing. That Summit brought together representatives of the U.S. Academy, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of the U.K. The incentive for the Summit was the development of a new means of gene editing with a technology called CRISPR-Cas9, and research in China using gene editing on human embryos. In the words of the statement gene editing is a technique for “precisely altering genetic sequencing in living cells, including those of humans,” with greater “accuracy and efficiency than ever before possible.” That possibility is both thrilling and deeply unsettling.

 The organizing committee concluded its meeting with three recommendations. It supported the continuance of basic and preclinical research, examining the potential benefits and underlying biology of editing genetic sequences (often called gene splicing) of living cells, including human cells. It also supported the clinical use of editing somatic cells, that is, those cells that are not passed along to the next generation (useful for cancer research).

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.