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Ethicists Advise Caution In Applying CRISPR Gene Editing To Humans

New submitter Baron_Yam quotes a report from Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source): Ethicists have been working overtime to figure out how to handle CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing technique that could potentially prevent congenital diseases but could also be used for cosmetic enhancements and lead to permanent, heritable changes in the human species. The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human “germline” if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations. For some ethicists, that represents a slippery slope. At the conclusion of a gene-editing summit in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences in December 2015, scientists said that although some basic research could proceed, it would be irresponsible to use genetically modified germline cells for the purpose of establishing a pregnancy. But the new report takes a slightly more permissive, forward-thinking position, saying that, if and when such interventions are proved safe — which could be in the near future — and if numerous criteria are met to ensure that such gene editing is regulated and limited, it could potentially be used to treat rare, serious diseases. “We say proceed with all due caution, but we don’t prohibit germline, after considerable discussion and debate,” said Richard Hynes, an MIT biologist and one of the leaders of the new study. “We’re talking only about fixing diseases.”


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