Scientists call to suspend inherited human genome editing

'If we are going to view certain applications of human genome editing as permissible, can we draw a line?'
By Jessica Davis
10:47 AM
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DNA

An international group of scientists is calling for a moratorium on making inheritable changes to the human genome, specifically the use of the Crisper-Cas9 technique on DNA.

The group met in Washington Thursday.

It would be "irresponsible to proceed," the group said; stating the need for a better risk assessment and a "broad societal consensus about the appropriateness" of these changes, The New York Times reported today.

[See also: Mayo Clinic launches genome work]

David Baltimore, former president of California Institute of Technology, helped organize the group, which consisted of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., the Institute of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London.

Together they have no regulatory power, but their opinion holds weight with the rest of scientists in the majority, if not all, countries.

It's not to say that this type of genome work couldn't proceed in the future as the breadth of knowledge increases. In fact, the group believes the topic should be routinely revisited.

[See also: NIH issues genomic data sharing rules]

"The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance," Baltimore said during the conference.

Crispr-Cas9 use propelled the meeting. The technique, invented three years ago, allows editing DNA in an easy and precise manner. The use of which could enable physicians to alter human genetics, including enhancing physical and mental traits.

"If we are going to view certain applications of human genome editing as permissible, can we draw a line and not throw out legitimate medical applications in order to stave off those that are less palatable to most of us?" George Daley, MD at Boston Children's Hospital, asked conference attendees.

Read more from the conference at The New York Times.

[See also: NIH funds research to integrate genomics into EHRs]