Around the debate of CRISPR human experiments. New global registry is proposed and a moratorium in reproductive germline editing
There’s an “urgent need” to create a transparent global registry that would list all experiments related to human genome editing, an expert committee convened to advise the World Health Organization (WHO) said today. The international committee of 18 researchers and bioethicists, which met in Geneva, Switzerland, also agreed with the widespread consensus that it would be “irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing.”
The international committee stated that its proposed moratorium does not apply to germline editing for research uses, provided that these studies do not involve the transfer of an embryo to a person’s uterus. It also does not apply to genome editing in human somatic (non-reproductive) cells to treat diseases, for which patients can provide informed consent and the DNA modifications are not heritable.
Several other high-profile statements and reports on genome editing have also avoided using the word “moratorium,” although they have similarly emphasized that too many risks and unknowns still surround this technology to use it for germline modifications—which could alter sperm, eggs, or embryos in a way that could pass changes on to future generations—even if the modifications are aimed at preventing life-threatening diseases.
The committee met in the wake of the startling news in November 2018 that a researcher in China, He Jiankui, had used the genome editor CRISPR on the embryos of twin girls who subsequently were born (see our report HERE). He and his co-workers say they attempted to cripple a gene in the girls to make their cells resistant to HIV infection. Researchers from around the world criticized the work for not being transparent, failing to address an unmet medical need, and not properly informing participants in the study of the risks. The Chinese government has condemned He’s work, he was fired from his university in Shenzhen, China, and a formal investigation is underway (read more about HERE). Science Mar. 19, 2019