Bioethics News

Interview: Carrie D. Wolinetz of the NIH on gene editing

Interview: Carrie D. Wolinetz of the NIH on gene editing

New gene editing technologies like the CRISPR-Cas9 technique hold great promise for medicine and the biological sciences. Some researchers say we may soon be able to eradicate infectious diseases like malaria, and edit HIV out of the genome of AIDS sufferers. Others believe we can use gene editing techniques to make animal organs suitable for human transplants. 

Yet there are many ethical questions attentant to research in the area, and ethicists are struggling to catch up with scientists eagerly refining the new gene editing techiques. Recently I spoke with Dr. Carrie D. Wolinetz, assistant director for Science Policy at the National Institutes of Health, about various concerns raised by bioethicists about gene editing.

Dr. Wolinetz worked on biomedical research policy issues as the Deputy Director for Federal Affairs at the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). She also served as the President of United for Medical Research, a leading NIH advocacy coalition. Outside of NIH, Dr. Wolinetz teaches as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service’s program on Science, Technology & International Affairs.

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Xavier Symons: The NIH is funding research into gene editing, but has stopped short of assisting projects involving human embryos. Why?

Carrie D. Wolinetz: On April 29, 2015, the NIH Director, Dr. Collins, issued a statement that “NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.”  In this statement, the Director noted the great potential that genomic editing technologies have for advancing the understanding of gene function and for non-heritable, therapeutic applications, including several human gene therapy trials studying the use of gene editing in somatic cells for HIV-1, β thalassemia, and hemophilia. 

However, the use of these technologies to modify the human germline raises complex issues, and while recent technological advances such as CRISPR-Cas9 have increased the technical feasibility, safety and ethical concerns have yet to be allayed.

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.