Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Maggie Villiger, Senior Science + Technology Editor
What's the right way for scientists to edit human genes? 5 essential reads

Since scientists first figured out how to edit genes with precision using a technology called CRISPR, they’ve been grappling with when and how to do it ethically. Is it reasonable to edit human genes with CRISPR? What about human genes in reproductive cells that pass the edits on to future generations?

The International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing[1] convened on Aug. 13 to hash out guidelines about editing human embryos. The goal is to provide a framework that researchers around the globe can consult to ensure their work is in line with scientific consensus.

An earlier U.S. National Academies committee had already released recommendations in 2017. They called for caution – but were ambiguous enough for Chinese scientist He Jiankui to suggest he’d followed them even as he produced twin girls with CRISPR-edited genomes[2] late last year.

Here are five stories from our archive that explore how to ethically develop and regulate a potentially risky new technology.

1. A voluntary pause

No one denies the power of the CRISPR editing tool. It could allow doctors to one day cure genetic diseases, whether in adults who are living with medical conditions or in embryos that have not yet even been born. But there’s a lot of lab work yet to be done, as well as many conversations to be had, about the right way to proceed.

In 2015, a group of prominent scientists called for a voluntary freeze on germline editing – that is, changing sperm, eggs or embryos – until ethical issues could be resolved.

Chemical biologist Jeff Bessen[3] wrote that this approach has precedents in the scientific community, where many think it makes sense to take things slow and place “the right emphasis on safety and ethics without hampering research progress[4].”

2. Stringent hurdles before proceeding

The National Academies’ 2017 report was meant to provide the scientific community with definitive guidance on the issue.

Rosa Castro[5], a scholar of science and society, explained that the report gave the green light to modifying body cells and a yellow light to modifying reproductive cells that would allow the changes to be inherited by future progeny. The report’s goal was to ensure that “germline genome editing will be used only[6] to prevent a serious disease, where no reasonable alternatives exist, and under strong supervision.”

3. Science marches on

By later that year, a research group announced they’d successfully used CRISPR to modify human embryos, though the edited embryos weren’t implanted in women and were never born. Bioethics and public health professor Jessica Berg[7] wrote about the importance of working out the ethical issues[8] of gene editing before researchers take the critical step of allowing modified embryos to develop and be born as babies.

“Should there be limits on the types of things you can edit in an embryo? If so, what should they entail? These questions also involve deciding who gets to set the limits and control access to the technology.

"We may also be concerned about who gets to control the subsequent research using this technology. Should there be state or federal oversight? Keep in mind that we cannot control what happens in other countries.

"Moreover, there are important questions about cost and access.”

4. Babies born with edited genomes

Most of the world reacted with shock in 2018 when a Chinese researcher announced he’d edited the germline cells of embryos[9] that went on to become twin baby girls. His stated goal was to protect them from HIV infection.

This development seemed to many researchers to be in violation of at least the spirit of the 2017 guidelines around human gene editing. Biomedical ethicist G. Owen Schaefer[10] described the central objection: that the procedure was simply too risky, with the potential for unexpected and harmful health effects later in the girls’ lives outweighing any benefit.

He wrote that the “CRISPR babies” are “part of a disturbing pattern in reproduction: rogue scientists bucking international norms[11] to engage in ethically and scientifically dubious reproductive research.”

5. Rules and regs don’t guarantee ethical work

Whatever the outcome of the current meeting, there may be a distinction between sticking to the rules and doing what’s right. Arizona State professor of life sciences J. Benjamin Hurlbut[12] and applied ethicist Jason Scott Robert[13] underscored this point after Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed he checked off the boxes laid out by the 2017 guidelines.

“Public debate about the experiment should not make the mistake of equating ethical oversight with ethical acceptability[14]. Research that follows the rules is not necessarily good by definition.”

Guidelines and expectations can help define what the scientific community finds acceptable. But complying with the routines of oversight doesn’t guarantee a project is ethical. That’s a much more complicated question.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

References

  1. ^ International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing (nationalacademies.org)
  2. ^ twin girls with CRISPR-edited genomes (theconversation.com)
  3. ^ Jeff Bessen (theconversation.com)
  4. ^ safety and ethics without hampering research progress (theconversation.com)
  5. ^ Rosa Castro (theconversation.com)
  6. ^ will be used only (theconversation.com)
  7. ^ Jessica Berg (scholar.google.com)
  8. ^ working out the ethical issues (theconversation.com)
  9. ^ edited the germline cells of embryos (theconversation.com)
  10. ^ G. Owen Schaefer (scholar.google.com)
  11. ^ rogue scientists bucking international norms (theconversation.com)
  12. ^ J. Benjamin Hurlbut (theconversation.com)
  13. ^ Jason Scott Robert (scholar.google.com)
  14. ^ equating ethical oversight with ethical acceptability (theconversation.com)

Authors: Maggie Villiger, Senior Science + Technology Editor

Read more http://theconversation.com/whats-the-right-way-for-scientists-to-edit-human-genes-5-essential-reads-121912

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

Best Practice For Young Professionals Working Through HR Internships

The industry of human relations is vitally important to the health and prosperity of a business.   Whether they are operating in textile manufacturing, accounting, sports, IT development or hospit...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Easy Steps To Gaining SEO Momentum For Your Business

SEO (search engine optimisation) does not have to be a tiresome and overbearing exercise that diverts attention away from the core functions of a business.   SEO Shark affirms this as a smart and ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Manage An SEO Project On Limited Funds

SEO operators don’t need thousands upon thousands of dollars to become successful.   What SEO practitioners needs more than ever is the skills and diligence to identify problems that are acting a...

News Company - avatar News Company

An Introduction To Coworking For Australian Business Owners

Advancing technology is bringing with it great advantages in communications and networking, and to survive in business you need to keep up. With the rate at which everything changes these days, that...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Oldest Trick in The Book of Selling Cars Within 24 Hours

It takes weeks and sometimes even months to be able to find an appropriate car buyer for car owners in New Zealand. But we have a surprise for residents of Auckland who are trying to sell their car...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 reasons to store your goods

There comes a time in most people’s lives when storing their household goods and furniture in a secure storage facility is necessary. It’s easy to think that you’ll never need to use storage, but it...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Holidays

New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt

SKYN LAUNCHES GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO GET INTIMATE

SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN