07 August 2017
ByAppeared in BioNews 912
However, such research should not culminate in human pregnancy until important scientific and ethical questions have been answered.
The joint policy statement comes a day after a report in Nature of the successful correction of a disease-causing gene using the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology in a human embryo, potentially bringing clinical germline editing in humans a step closer.
Although in support of research into editing human embryos or gametes, the statement warns that future clinical application should proceed only if there is a compelling medical need, and sufficient evidence to support its safe and effective use.
Several ethical questions are also highlighted, including potential unknown consequences for future generations, concerns regarding eugenics, so-called 'designer babies', and access to the technology.
'While germline genome editing could theoretically be used to prevent a child being born with a genetic disease, its potential use also raises a multitude of scientific, ethical, and policy questions - these questions cannot all be answered by scientists alone, but also need to be debated by society,' said Dr Derek Scholes, director of science policy for the American Society of Human Genetics.
The statement also supports public funding of in vitro germline genome editing research, which is currently not provided. Professor Kelly Ormond, one of the statement's lead authors, emphasised this point, saying, 'We felt it was really important to say that we support federal funding for this kind of research'.
The American Society of Human Genetics initiated the preparation of the statement, but was keen to include other organisations from around the world due to the global impact of the work, and the fact that research is carried out in many different countries, each with different regulatory frameworks. These included UK organisations the Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors and the British Society for Genetic Medicine.
Professor Frances Flinter, consultant in Clinical Genetics at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said: 'The statement is timely and well balanced. There are so many uncertainties and potentially serious risks that it would be extremely irresponsible to embark on any form of germline genome editing that results in a human pregnancy at present. Further research, however, performed in a strictly regulated environment, as in the UK, may yield useful information about potential clinical applications.'