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Nuffield Council publishes preliminary ethical review of genome editing

03 October 2016

By Rachel Siden

Appeared in BioNews 871

Use of genome editing in human reproduction requires 'urgent ethical scrutiny', according to a report published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The preliminary report, 'Genome editing: an ethical review', looks at the potential impact of recent advances in the area, such as the development of the genome-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9. Following the report, the Council has now set up two expert groups to look in detail at two areas – human reproduction and livestock.

'Genome editing is already showing a potential to transform not only how biological research is carried out, but more importantly our expectations and ambitions for addressing challenges such as disease prevention and food security. Although most uses so far have been in research, the potential applications seem to be almost unlimited, given that the techniques are applicable to all organisms, from bacteria to plants, animals, and human beings,' said Dr Andy Greenfield, chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Group.

The review follows significant developments in genome editing, such as the 2015 Chinese experiment editing the genes of human embryos, and the 2016 approval for genome-editing research on human embryos in the UK (see BioNews 799 and 837).

'Genome editing is a potentially powerful set of techniques that holds many future possibilities, including that of altering certain genetic features at the embryonic stage that are known to lead to serious and life-limiting disease,' says Professor Karen Yeung, chair of the Council's working party on human reproductive applications. 'In the UK and in many other countries, a long path to legislative change would have to be followed before this could become a treatment option.'

The report states that it is important to consider potential applications now, before they become practical choices: 'Addressing these difficult questions now will help meet concerns that technology is rushing ahead of public debate and allow such debate to influence the development of the technology, distinguish acceptable from unacceptable aims, and reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity for researchers and potential recipients of the technology.'

The two expert working parties, on human reproduction and livestock, will report their findings and recommendations in 2017.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Nuffield Council on Bioethics | 30 September 2016
 
Nuffield Council on Bioethics (press release) | 30 September 2016
 
The Guardian | 30 September 2016
 
BBC News | 30 September 2016
 
Nature | 30 September 2016
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

28 November 2016 - by Lucas Taylor 
More than 75 percent of those with a genetic condition, and their family members, support the use of genome-editing technology, a survey has found...
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The Nuffield Council on Bioethics presented its preliminary report 'Genome editing: an ethical review' in the genteel surroundings of the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington...

26 September 2016 - by Anneesa Amjad 
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CROSSING FRONTIERS

Moving the Boundaries of Human Reproduction

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London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Jacques Cohen

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Andy Greenfield

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross


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