It’s official: no more Crispr babies, for now -Dlight News

It's official: no more Crispr babies, for now

last week in London, a small group of protesters challenged him in the rain in front of the Francis Crick Institute, where the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing was taking place. The sparse congregation, of the group stop babies designer, brandished signs urging “Never Again Eugenics” and “NO HGM” (No Human Genetic Modification). The group campaigns against what it sees as a bias in the scientific community towards the use of gene editing for biological enhancement, to modify genomes to give, for example, greater intelligence or blue eyes. If this were to happen, it would be a slippery slope toward eugenics, the group argues.

Three days later, at the close of the summit, it seems that the wishes of the group may have been partially fulfilled, at least for the moment.

After several days of experts discussing the scientific, ethical, and governance issues associated with human genome editing, the summit’s organizing committee issued its closing sentence. Hereditary editing of the human genome, the editing of embryos that are then implanted to establish a pregnancy, which can pass on their edited DNA, “remains unacceptable at this time,” the committee concluded. “Public discussions and policy debates continue and are important in deciding whether to use this technology.”

The use of the word “if” in that last sentence was carefully selected and carries a lot of weight, says Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist who was on the organizing committee. Crucially, the word is not “how”: “That, I think, is a clear signal to say that the debate is open,” she says.

This marks a change in attitude since the closing of the last summit, in 2018, during which Chinese scientist He Jiankui dropped a bombshell: He revealed that he had previously used Crispr to edit human embryos, resulting in the birth of three edited babies. with crispr. —to the horror of summit attendees and the rest of the world. In its final statement, the committee condemned He Jiankui’s premature actions, but at the same time signaled a yellow light instead of red about germline genome editing, that is, proceed with caution. He recommended establishing a “translational pathway” that could bring the approach to clinical trials in a rigorous and accountable way.

In the intervening half-decade or so, research has confirmed that germline genome editing is still too risky, and that’s before you even start grappling with the massive ethical concerns and societal ramifications. And these concerns were compounded at this year’s summit.

These include, for example, mosaicism, where genome editing results in some cells getting different edits than others. At the summit, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a biologist at the Oregon Health and Science University, presented recommendations from his lab that showed that germline genome editing had resulted in unwanted and potentially dangerous adjustments to embryos’ genomes, which standard DNA reading tests used to detect embryos before implantation might miss. Another scientist, Dagan Wells, a reproductive biologist at the University of Oxford, presented research looking at how embryos repair breaks in their DNA after they have been edited. His work found that around two-fifths of the embryos were unable to repair broken DNA. A child growing from such an embryo could suffer from health problems.

The message was loud and clear: Scientists still don’t know how to safely edit embryos.

For Katie Hasson, associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a California nonprofit that advocates for a broad ban on hereditary genome editing, those few lines in the committee’s final statement were the most important thing that left the summit. “I think this is a significant step back from the brink.”

But figuring out “if” germline hereditary editing will ever be acceptable requires a lot more work. “That conversation about whether or not we should do it needs to be much broader than what we saw at the summit,” Hasson says. The world needs to reach a broad social consensus on this issue, says Baylis. He worries that job won’t happen. So far, these summits have led the discussion about where the field is headed, but whether a fourth summit will ever take place is still up in the air. “I think we still haven’t had the difficult conversations that we still need to have,” says Baylis.

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