Bioethics Blogs

Human Gene Editing: A Global Discussion

Françoise Baylis explains “On Human Gene Editing: International Summit Statement” to the participants at the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2016 Annual Meeting.

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Last December, at the end of the three day International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Washington D.C., the Organizing Committee issued a closing Statement. This statement included four discrete conclusions. As the science and politics continue to evolve, a quick refresher is in order.

First, the Committee formally endorsed basic and preclinical research on any and all human cells, provided this was done in accordance with “appropriate legal and ethical rules and oversight.” This would include lab research on somatic cells (i.e., body cells whose genomes are not transmitted to subsequent generations) as well as research on eggs, sperm and human embryos (i.e., germ cells whose genomes are transmitted to subsequent generations if they are used in reproduction).

This conclusion demonstrated approval for past and forthcoming gene editing research involving human embryos. Accordingly, the experiment involving the editing of human embryos published in April 2015 by a group of Chinese scientists would be considered “legitimate.” This is not a comment on the ethics or the science of the research. This is merely to say that the research in non-viable human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to “repair” the HBB gene that can cause beta-thalassemia was done in accordance with applicable rules in China (and, for that matter, applicable rules in a number of other countries). Similarly, the research approved in February 2016 by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom, to better understand the basic biology of human development, would also be considered “legitimate.” In both cases this is because the embryo “editing” research remains in the lab (i.e., there is no plan to initiate a pregnancy) and as such there is no germline effect.

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.