Paris conference investigates CRISPR potential

CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies hold great promise for treating disease. However, they also provoke significant ethical concerns, especially about germline modification and the consequences of altering the genetic heritage of future generations.

On April 28 and 29, two conferences were held in Paris, one organised by European scientists and the other by Americans. They were attended by the world’s leading figures in stem cell research and ethics for a discussion of regulation, governance, and ethical issues surrounding human gene-editing research.

Caroline Simons, an Irish lawyer, reported on the proceedings in a guest post on The Niche, the blog of Paul Knoepfler’s stem cell lab. It’s a very useful summary of the status quo.

1.  Germline gene editing technologies are not ready for clinical application in humans.

2.  No country has regulated specifically for these technologies, but some consider that their regulations would encompass, or at least not prohibit, somatic gene editing.

3.  Most countries prohibit germline gene editing.

4.  There is no support for the clinical application of germline gene editing, but there is consensus that basic research should continue.

5.  There is consensus that research and, when safety and efficacy concerns are satisfied, that clinical trials of somatic gene editing should continue.

6.  There is no common understanding of ‘enhancement’ and no consensus that editing to achieve it should be permitted, even in somatic cells.

7.  The UK is the only country to permit mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT), which will result in germline alteration. Neither the US nor China consider it prudent to approve MRT technology at this time.

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.